Constables Shrestin Sundar, school liaison officer, left, and Josh Waltman, Nanaimo detachment mental health liaison officer, are among police officers in Nanaimo who now have sensory kits on hand to help communicate with and lower anxiety for people with sensory disorders, who have difficulty communicating verbally and may also be experiencing mental health crises. (Photo submitted)

Constables Shrestin Sundar, school liaison officer, left, and Josh Waltman, Nanaimo detachment mental health liaison officer, are among police officers in Nanaimo who now have sensory kits on hand to help communicate with and lower anxiety for people with sensory disorders, who have difficulty communicating verbally and may also be experiencing mental health crises. (Photo submitted)

First responders in Nanaimo will have sensory support kits to help with communication and anxiety

Kits help police officers communicate with people who are non-verbal

Nanaimo RCMP officers have a new tool to help front-line officers respond to calls that involve people with sensory processing disorders, are on the autism spectrum and may also be experiencing mental health crises.

Sensory support kits include noise-cancelling headphones, booklets with visual supports that include emergency-specific symbols and a dry-erase board and pen for non-verbal communication, sunglasses for those with light sensitivity, and other items to facilitate communication and lower anxiety.

The idea to purchase the kits came to Const. Josh Waltman, Nanaimo RCMP’s mental health liaison officer, when he attended an autism training session hosted by the Canucks Autism Network where the kits were introduced. Waltman saw the need for them in Nanaimo and pitched the idea to Nanaimo RCMP senior management and the city, which were quick to endorse it.

“I believed there’d be some great value in providing these to police officers, so if they ever need them they’re there and a smart supervisor once told me, ‘It’s better to be looking at things than for things,’” Waltman said.

The detachment purchased 15 kits at $100 each.

Waltman said police can employ as few or as many of the items in the kits as needed, depending on the person with whom they’re dealing.

“There’s definitely reusable pieces to them,” Waltman said. “There’s also a stuffed bear in there and a blanket. If that’s used … we’d have to order a new one. It’s got some fidgets and a stress ball and noise-cancelling headphones just to reduce the stimulation and the noise from the public, weather, police cars or whatever … I think the most important [items] are the cards for people who are non-verbal.”

The cards, charts and dry-erase boards allow non-verbal people to write messages or point to symbols to indicate how much pain or anxiety they might be feeling and what part of their body they’re experiencing it. The information can be passed on to paramedics or doctors.

“You can either give that to the client or you can use them to try and figure out what the client needs if they’re non-verbal,” Waltman said.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo RCMP’s mental health liaison says his role will take persistence and resilience

The kits have been placed in Waltman’s police vehicle, in all school liaison officer vehicles and in some other police cars. The kits were received in the second week of May and have yet to be used on a call for service.

“In my opinion, this is just another example of the Nanaimo RCMP making another commitment to its community, the most vulnerable population, that we’re willing to provide a better service and we’re willing to provide our police officers with more tools that can be utilized,” Waltman said. “Maybe they aren’t utilized, but at least they’re there to be utilized should the opportunity arise.”



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Nanaimo RCMP now have sensory kits filled with a range of tools to help calm anxiety and assist communication between police and people who cannot express themselves verbally. (Photo submitted)

Nanaimo RCMP now have sensory kits filled with a range of tools to help calm anxiety and assist communication between police and people who cannot express themselves verbally. (Photo submitted)