Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Kailey Ambrose designs EMT sensory kit for people on autism spectrum

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- First responders have to be ready for any situation, at any moment. But they can't think of everything. That's where a Washington County Girl Scout and her mom come in. Kailey Ambrose is on the autism spectrum. She and her mom realized EMTs might need a special set of tools for people with sensory disorders.

Kailey, 21, has been a Girl Scout for years. She has a sash filled with badges to prove it.

"So ever since 4th grade, she's been in Girl Scouts, and we've had some fun times," said mom, Bethann Ambrose.

Kailey has also marked some big milestones along the way. This year, she became a Gold Award winner, by coming up with an important tool. She designed a sensory medic kit for first responders.

"As you see, the bag is not real big. So, anything that is in here was thought out really well," explained teacher Julie Quigley, removing each item carefully.

Kailey herself is diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

Inside the kits there are sensory balls for squeezing.

"Sensory balls, yes," Kailey exclaimed.

"We can squish them, they just feel good," Bethann explained.

The bag also has a pair of noise cancelling headphones to cut down on loud sounds and a weighted lap pad.

"So, this is like, 12 pounds, that would go on their lap," Bethann demonstrated. The weight of the pad can have a calming effect.

There are even sensory brushes inside, used to brush the skin.

"The EMT or the firefighter may have to brush them down just to bring that behavior down, in order to calm that person down," Bethann said.

A whiteboard with markers can also help with communication if a person is non-verbal.

"One of the big things we say, and we teach the first responders, is increase your visual and decrease your verbal," said Bethann.

All the items are designed to bring calm and lower anxiety for people on the autism spectrum or with sensory disorders. Bethann explained where the idea came from.

"During Covid, we noticed Kailey's anxiety also was increasing, because we also have our fire department literally on the other side of the woods here," she said.

Bethann went on to explain that the lights, sirens and other sounds that happen during an emergency can be extremely stressful.

"Sometimes the fear and anxiety for these kids, or even adults, cause them not to communicate. Or, they may hide in places," she said.

The kits also contain education information and tips to help those responding during a crisis.

"It seemed like a fantastic project, I agreed there was a need in the community," Quigley said.

She sponsored Kailey's project.

"Having someone with the needs that Kailey has, and knowing that she is contributing in a very real way, I think it's really meaningful," Quigley said.

Kailey also got a team together to help her put them together. Teens in her Confirmation class came together to collect items for the bags. Others helped make calming sensory bottles.

"The trunks were open, and it's like, okay, what do you need? And boxes were going to and from in the parking lot," Bethann recalled of the pick-up, that was socially distanced because of the pandemic.

Kailey goes to school at the Wisconsin Independent Learning College, where friends helped assemble the bags. The 12 kits were donated to West Bend EMTs and Easter Seals. It's a project Kailey plans to carry on.

"Kind of like a sense of self worth that she can do something, despite her disability," Bethann said.

It's a project that both assists others and helped to educate.

"Often times, the EMTs, firefighters need to be trained as to how to deal with this population because they might not know they're hiding inside a burning home," said Bethann.

It started small, but it's now starting to grow. Kailey plans to partner with the Waukesha County Technical Institute to make additional kits and help with training requirements for first responders.

"And knowing that her family has helped her come up with a business, and a real business, that could make a real contribution to society, is really special," Quigley said.

If you'd like to nominate someone for Natalie's Everyday Heroes, send Natalie an email at NShepherd@cbs58.com.

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