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Home About Us Blog My Milestones - Jenna Newman: Helping First Responders Communicate With Individuals With Special Needs

My Milestones - Jenna Newman: Helping First Responders Communicate With Individuals With Special Needs

Posted on 08/24/18 by Milestones

Jenna Newman of Mentor knew that if her young son with autism ever needed help or had an emergency, the Mentor Fire Department would be the first ones contacted. Concerned that first responders may not know how to interact with her son and children like him, Newman teamed up with the Mentor Fire Department to start a free fire safety story-time for kids with special needs. The program was designed to build relationships between local children and firefighters by including shared experiences, such as story-time, a joint activity, and a trip to the parking lot for a tour by the firefighters of firetrucks.

“My son went from not wanting to do anything with any of it, to now sitting by the firemen, high-fiving them, listening to the story and doing the activities; he is really loving the program!” said Newman. “He has made some awesome friends with these heroes.”

The fire safety story-time program was such a success that the nearby Willoughby Fire Department contacted Newman to get the program started at their station as well. However, Newman’s efforts of helping the fire departments didn’t end there. The mother of four also helped to provide new icon cards to the fire departments. These small cards, which include icons of things such as people and body parts, can be used by first responders to engage with individuals with communication needs, and they are now on each truck at both the Mentor and Willoughby fire departments.

“We knew they needed a way to communicate with nonverbal people or people that have a harder time communicating,” shared Newman.

The cards have already been a success, as one Willoughby firefighter has already utilized the cards to help a young child this summer.

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Newman also hopes that she will soon get her local police involved in story times as well and thinks that it’s important for all first responders to interact more with teenagers and young adults with special needs.

“We don’t want our kids to be scared of first responders and the first responders need training on how to interact with our kids in stressful times,” Newman said.

With the help of the firefighters who volunteer their time when they are not working, the story-time programs take place once a month usually at the Mentor Public Library and at the Willoughby Fire Station. For more information about how to obtain a set of icon cards, contact Jenna Newman at

Milestones Autism Resources provides customized trainings to first responders interested in learning best practices on how to interact with individuals with autism. To schedule a training, please contact 216.464.7600.

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