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Woman creates way for responders to communicate with special needs children

Jenna Newman created cards using the Picture Exchange Communication System that include images broken down into categories

By EMS1 Staff

MENTOR, Ohio — After learning that responders had no training on how to communicate with special needs children, a resident created a system to help.

The News-Herald reported that Jenna Newman, who has a 7-year-old son with autism, created icon cards for firefighters and EMS providers using the Picture Exchange Communication System, which breaks pictures down into categories so that responders can determine where the child is hurt.

The cards feature images of people, sign language, responders, body parts, vehicles and medical supplies.

“By flipping through the cards with the person who needs help, hopefully it will help them to communicate with the first responders what might be hurting, who they might need or be missing from,” Newman said. “This also will hopefully ease any anxiety that the person might have if they are having a hard time processing what is going on. The first responder can find the card for, say, the ambulance if they need to go in the ambulance, or the needle if they are trying to put an IV in.”

Willoughby Fire Department Lt. Mark Leisure said every squad now has a set of the cards.

“We keep them in our pediatric bag, but they can also be used for adults with special needs,” Leisure said.

Newman said she has been using the cards with her son for about three years.

“We have them all around the house for things such as food, toys, clothes and TV shows.” Newman said. “I knew he needed a way to communicate with first responders if he ever needs to and by them carrying these cards I hope it will help.”