Metro Detroit nonprofit gives first responders ‘911Ready Bags’ to help people with autism in an emergency

Bags have weighted blankets, noise-reducing headphones and more to de-escalate an emergency

What originally started as a project to raise awareness about autism has blossomed into something that’s making a real difference in Downriver communities and beyond.
What originally started as a project to raise awareness about autism has blossomed into something that’s making a real difference in Downriver communities and beyond.

GROSSE ILE, Mich. – What originally started as a project to raise awareness about autism has blossomed into something that’s making a real difference in Downriver communities and beyond.

An emergency is already a high-stressed situation and for someone with autism, that stress intensifies. Nonprofit Mimi’s Mission wants to change that.

“The sirens are extrasensory, lights are extrasensory, more people running around, more people yelling, more people talking,” said Lisa Vilella, executive director of Mimi’s Mission.

Vilella worked with Brownstown Police Department Lt. Andrew Starzec to come up with a solution, 911Ready bags.

“There’s so many what ifs, let’s just take out the what ifs,” she said.

On Wednesday, Vilella and Starzec dropped off more than a dozen bags to Grosse Ile police and fire departments. Before they left, they went through the contents of the bag and explained how it could help calm down someone with autism.

The bag has items like a weighted blanket, a sensory noodle and noise-reducing headphones. All of the items are intended to keep an autistic person calm during an emergency.

Starzec said officers are using the bags and they are already changing lives.

“We were able to resolve that situation without the girl going to the hospital and without an arrest which is always a good thing,” he said.

The initiative was supposed to end in April, but six months later, there is still a need.

“We had no answers. We had no tools, we weren’t quite sure what to do and this bag gives us those tools and answers those questions and makes us relax,” said Grosse Ile Fire Chief Russell Bodrie.

There will be a bag in every police and fire unit along with decals and seat belt covers with information cards so when they see it on a car as they pull up to an emergency, they know they may interact with an autistic person.

Mimi’s Mission already has plans to drop off bags to first responders in Royal Oak, Redford and Northville. The goal is to get 911Ready bags into as many police and fire departments as possible.

The nonprofit is also working on a system for first responders to get text alerts with pictures and vital information about an autistic person who may be involved in an emergency they are heading to.

For more information and to sponsor or request a 911Ready Bag, visit mimismission.com/911ready-bags/.

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About the Author:

Megan Woods is thrilled to be back home and reporting at Local 4. She joined the team in September 2021. Before returning to Michigan, Megan reported at stations across the country including Northern Michigan, Southwest Louisiana and a sister station in Southwest Virginia.