Bryce Carter has been helping the county’s public safety agencies for over three years as the Public Safety ITS director for the Miami County Sheriff’s Office.

Carter, who has a degree from Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, Texas, is a technology whiz who Capt. Matt Kelly said will always be one of the smartest people in the room.

Bryce Carter also has nonverbal autism.

“I feel people should know that nonverbal autism does not define intelligence, independence, life, and communication,” Carter wrote in an email. “Everybody in the world is different, but just because somebody is nonverbal does not mean they have nothing to say.”

The sheriff’s office is launching a program April 1 to coincide with national Autism Awareness Month that will equip all of the agency’s patrol vehicles with backpacks filled with autism sensory items to help personnel better communicate with people who have autism.

The sheriff’s office has partnered with Lakemary Center and has received a $2,504 grant from the Baehr Foundation, managed through First Option Bank, to make the program a reality, Kelly said.

Lakemary Center, of Paola, serves children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Kelly came up with the idea for the program after learning more about Carter’s autism and reading about a fire department that utilizes autism sensory tools.

“I saw an article about a fire department in Ohio that had these bags on their fire trucks,” Kelly said. “When they would respond to calls that have people with autism, whether it be kids or adults, they had these tools to help communicate with them and keep them calm — whatever the case may be — because the spectrum is so wide that autism affects people in different ways.”

Lakemary supplied 20 backpacks to the sheriff’s office at no cost, and recommended what autism sensory items to put in the backpacks. The Baehr Foundation grant funded the cost of purchasing the sensory items for the 20 backpacks, Kelly said.

“We got enough to outfit every patrol vehicle, sixteen of them, and we have a few extra backpacks in case one needs replaced,” Kelly said. “These sensory items will be used on calls where they could be beneficial to persons with autism.”

On Friday, March 26, Lakemary staff volunteered their services to help train sheriff’s office personnel from several divisions in the department on how and when to use the sensory items.

During the training session in the community room at the sheriff’s office, Lakemary staff also demonstrated some techniques to improve communication and how to be a calming influence to a person with autism who might be in a potentially stressful situation.

“It’s exciting. It’s amazing that they are going to have tools that help them and help other people in the community,” said Jillie Powell, a certified occupational therapy assistant with Lakemary who was one of the presenters March 26.

Another Lakemary presenter, certified occupational therapy assistant Amber Wessel, said before the training began that the goal is to help sheriff’s office staff recognize what sensory items to use and when to use them.

“We’re going to go through that today and talk about the various items that each of the backpacks hold and what you can utilize them for, when you’re on the job,” Wessel said.

Powell and Wessel said the backpack program is needed because the number of people diagnosed with autism is rising each year.

As part of the awareness campaign, Capt. Kelly said the sheriff’s office has created T-shirts for staff to wear in April that will have a newly designed Miami County Sheriff’s Office autism patch.

“We also have autism awareness bracelets and ribbon pins to wear,” Kelly said. “These can be purchased by staff as well. A select number of deputies have purchased blue badges to wear instead of the traditional silver or gold badges. The proceeds from all these items will go to Lakemary as a donation.”

The logo will also be placed on patrol cars that are equipped with the backpacks, and the sheriff’s office will have stickers that citizens can place on their vehicles and on the front door or window of their home free of charge to alert first responders that a person with autism could be in the vehicle or the residence.

Keri Peterson and Betty Hewitt, with First Option Bank’s financial services department which manages the Baehr Foundation, presented a check to the sheriff’s office earlier in the month. Allison Ray, communications supervisor of the sheriff’s dispatch center, wrote the grant for the autism program.

Ray and the First Option representatives talked about the benefits of the program for the sheriff’s office and the community.

“We’ve always appreciated anything that comes in from Miami County Sheriff’s Office, because it’s always a need and sometimes it’s a new program that the community hasn’t seen anything like it before,” Peterson said. “The Foundation trustees like (grant applications) that try new things to help us impact the community in a positive way.”

Kelly said the program would not be possible without community partners like the Lakemary Center and the Baehr Foundation. The captain said his goal is to expand the program to other law enforcement agencies in the county, as well as all the fire departments and Miami County Emergency Medical Services.

After the Lakmary training session March 26, Bryce Carter used a tablet to communicate with sheriff’s personnel and Lakemary staff in the community room as he put on a presentation about his life and some of the challenges he faces. He encouraged everyone to accept and communicate with people with autism.

Later that day, Carter described the satisfaction he gets from working for the sheriff’s office.

“I am very dedicated to helping people, and in my job I get to serve all public safety agencies in Miami County,” Carter wrote in an email. “It is very rewarding to bring all these agencies together and give them the technology to serve our citizens better.”

Carter thinks the public would be surprised about what people with nonverbal autism can do.

“You must give them an opportunity and access whatever AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) or assistive things they need to have a voice,” Carter wrote. “Embrace and accept differences, and I promise the result will be amazing.”

News Editor Doug Carder can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or doug.carder@miconews.com.

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