As the firetrucks quietly pulled into the parking lot, the children at Cornerstone’s West Lafayette center looked out of the windows in excitement and awe. They slowly started to spill out of the doors with their therapists, hand in hand, to tour the trucks and meet the West Lafayette Fire Department (WLFD). For some, this was their first time interacting with firefighters or seeing their trucks up close.
Therapist Alexis Amerio stood with her morning client at the end of the line, with headphones covering his ears due to sound sensitivity. She could tell he was becoming anxious as the crowd grew larger and larger. He needed to go inside for a few minutes, but after being inside the building he started to show an interest again, pointing to the window saying, “Truck! Truck!”
By the time they made it back outside, all of the clients were back in the center and the doors to the trucks were closed. Alexis realized the tours were over, and she broke the news to her client. He started to become visibly upset when he found out he couldn’t get into the trucks like the other kids had a few minutes earlier. One of the firefighters noticed his disappointment and walked over to him.
“Do you want to see the firetruck?” asked the fireman. “I can open it back up for you!”
The fireman took the client to the truck and gave him access to the driver’s seat, and the fireman sat on the passenger side. The client was bouncing with excitement! Noticing this, the fireman showed him how to move the levers to make the seat go up and down. The client was amazed at what the fireman showed him, and quickly moved the levers back and forth.
“Hey, look! I have headphones too!” The fireman pulled his headphones down and put them on. Alexis said her client loved this moment. When the fireman took them off, Alexis’ client pointed and said, “Wear! Wear!”
Alexis believes this had a positive impact on her client. She said his smile was constant throughout the experience. It touched her heart so much that she began to cry.
“I already respect the firemen, but it makes me respect them in a different way,” said Alexis. “I could see that they really care about people and not just people like them. They care about everyone, including kids that have autism. They actually took the time to meet each kid individually.”
This year WLFD created an autism awareness shirt that would also raise funds for the Cornerstone Autism Foundation. They raised over $1,000 this April by collecting donations each time they wore the shirt. The fundraiser will take place again next April! Learn more about this fundraiser here.
May 18, 2018, Morgan McClellan