Portage Township Autism Group Launches Identification Bracelet Program, Water Safety Classes

Portage Township Autism Group Launches Identification Bracelet Program, Water Safety Classes

The Portage Township Autism Action Coalition (PTAAC) has launched two new programs aimed at keeping youngsters on the autism spectrum safe.

Last month, the group, led by Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy, launched the emergency identification bracelet program during an event at Portage High School. Next month, the group, in a partnership with the Portage Township YMCA will begin offering water safety classes free of charge to Portage Township children diagnosed with autism.

“In taking the Portage Township Autism Action Coalition to its next phase, our goal was to not only bolster relationships between children with autism and their families and first responders, but to address some of the significant issues families with children on the spectrum face every day,” said Clancy.

Many children on the spectrum have a tendency to wander or flee when they become frightened or overwhelmed. Many children are also non-verbal or become non-communicative when they become overwhelmed.

The emergency identification bracelet program, which was based on a program initiated a few years ago by then North Township Trustee and now U.S. Congressman Frank Mrvan, was adapted to serve children and first responders in Portage Township.

The program allows parents to register their child by answering some simple questions regarding the child’s physical and behavioral traits as well as emergency contact information. The child is then issued a blue silicone bracelet embossed with a unique number. That number, along with the information, is inputted into the Porter County Central Communications 911 data base, said Joyce Russell, Portage Township community outreach and communications coordinator, who oversees the program.

First responders are trained to identify the bracelets. If necessary, the first responder will be able to obtain the person’s emergency information through the data base maintained at Porter County Central Communications. The contact information will include name, contact information and other information of special interest.

“The goal of the program is to provide first responders with a useful tool to aid in identifying, locating and interacting with youngsters on the spectrum,” said Russell.

Parents are also provided with unique puzzle piece window clings – symbolic of autism, which they can place on their home’s or cars’ windows to alert first responders that a person with autism is in the home or vehicle.

The program launched last month during an event at Portage High School which also included a touch-a-truck-like event. Representatives from the Portage, South Haven and Ogden Dunes fire departments as well as the Portage Police Department attended, allowing the children to not only meet first responders, but to see their equipment and vehicles in a sensory-friendly, lights down, sounds down way.

The program, which was partially funded through a grant from Autism Speaks, is continuing to register children through the Portage Township Trustee’s office at 3590 Willowcreek Road, Suite B, Portage. More information on the program can be found as well on the trustee’s website at portagetrustee.org

A partnership with the Portage Township YMCA will be helping to address concerns of water safety which parents of autistic children face on a daily basis.

“Children on the spectrum tend to be drawn to water. Many also tend to have no fear. We have seen a few tragic incidents, including one recently in Michigan City, where a child on the spectrum wandered and was later found drown,” said Russell, adding that drowning is one of the primary causes of deaths of children on the spectrum.

PTAAC applied for, and received a second grant from Autism Speaks, which will fund training for Portage Township YMCA aquatics instructors in autism awareness and safety. The training is through the International Board of Certification and Continuing Education Standards. The YMCA, which already hosts a nationally-renown water safety program, will adapt the program to serve Portage Township children on the spectrum.

“The grant will allow us to provide scholarships for 100 Portage Township children with ASD, making the program free of charge to their families,” said Russell.

The YMCA is currently working to schedule the classes, which should be offered in mid-June.

“The trustee’s office, along with our partners in the Portage Township Autism Action Coalition, are providing these programs to assist families with children diagnosed with autism to improve their quality of life, improve safety for children on the spectrum, provide necessary tools for first responders and to address and raise awareness of autism in our community,” said Clancy. “Statistics indicate that one in 44 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, including our very own children in Portage Township.”

About Portage Township Autism Action Coalition:

Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy formed the coalition in January 2020. It includes the Porter County Sheriff’s Department, Portage Police Department, Ogden Dunes Police Department, South Haven Fire Department, Portage Fire Department, Ogden Dunes Fire Department, Portage Township Schools, Porter County Central Communications and Portage Township YMCA.

The coalition has already raised some $10,000 which it used to purchase and distribute more than 175 autism sensory kits to be used in each police and fire vehicle, Portage Township Schools buildings and other entities serving Portage Township. It also developed and distributed autism awareness and training kits to each of the six first responding agencies.