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Sensory bags help Ind. first responders better aid special needs patients

Ben’s Blue Bags are named after Ben Kodicek, 6, who served as the inspiration for project


Photo/Kouts Fire Department

Mary Freda
The Times, Munster, Ind.

CROWN POINT, Ind. — Ben Kodicek loves trains, the color blue and is really good at math.

The 6-year-old boy is the face behind Ben’s Blue Bags — sensory bags that help first responders on calls with patients who have special needs or those on the autism spectrum, such as Ben, said Crown Point fire Lt. Matt Kodicek, Ben’s dad.

Though Ben’s Blue Bags are becoming a common tool for various public safety departments across Northwest Indiana, Ben isn’t aware of his celebrity status. Although, he does enjoy playing with the sensory toys in the bag.

Kodicek said he never expected the initiative to take off in the way it has within a year. To continue its mission, Ben’s Blue Bags has received an anonymous $20,000 donation from a Crown Point family.

Ben’s Blue Bags also will soon join the Community Help Network Inc. and the Northwest Indiana Cancer Kids (NICK) Foundation in the old ARC of Northwest Indiana building at 550 E. Burrell Drive, Crown Point.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s awesome. I think it’s great, and even that it’s spreading to police and fire is great — that they’re seeing the need for it,” Kodicek said.

“I want to take the stigma away, and that’s what I talk about (in training).”

The inspiration for the bags came via a Facebook post from a Clearcreek (Ohio) Fire District firefighter who brought sensory bags to his department to help respond to calls where there are patients who have autism.

When Kodicek saw the post, he knew he wanted to bring something similar to Crown Point Fire & Rescue, and delivered his first class to his colleagues on Ben’s Blue Bags on Dec. 9, 2019.

However, the sensory bags aren’t just for children and adults who have autism spectrum disorder, Kodicek said during a recent training with Ogden Dunes Volunteer Fire Department.

“It’s also any time you have a special needs person that you can utilize these bags, or any pediatric call ... these bags can be deployed,” Kodicek said during the training. “It might just be somebody who is hard of hearing and has trouble communicating, there’s items in the bag to help them.”

Another tool in the toolbox

Since 2019, Kodicek has hosted training sessions for 25 public safety departments, including police, fire and EMS, across Northwest Indiana, doling out 58 of the sensory bags along the way.

Each training lasts roughly two hours, and aims to equip first responders with the tools to recognize, educate and advocate for those on the autism spectrum.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Kodicek hoped to visit every department in Northwest Indiana. The pandemic and its restrictions have slowed that goal, he said, however training sessions continue with social distancing measures in place.

By 2021, Kodicek hopes the program will be implemented across the Hoosier state. So far fire departments in South Bend, Avon and Indianapolis have expressed interest in Ben’s Blue Bags.

Crown Point firefighter paramedic Dale Holsti, who appears in a training video for Ben’s Blue Bags, said the bag is another tool in a first responder’s toolbox.

“Within the last few years, the state’s mandated autism training because obviously it is a relevant thing. I was a Special Olympics coach years ago, and you treat them the same, but you have to be aware that the kids do process things differently,” Holsti said.

“So it’s nice to have this tool in the toolbox because what would work for you doesn’t work for a kid like Ben or someone in the special needs community.”

Holsti adding the training that comes with the bag makes responding to incidents, “better for everyone.”


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