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Special needs event provides information

BY DANIEL PAXTON dpaxton@paducahsun.com

The "Meet our Special Heroes" event brought together special needs children, their families and local law enforcement and emergency service providers in an environment designed to be "sensory friendly" and provide information about services offered by local agencies.

The event, held Friday afternoon outside at West Kentucky Community & Technical College, was put on by local nonprofit Families on the Spectrum. The nonprofit's goal is to assist families with children who have been diagnosed along the autism spectrum.

Local law enforcement and emergency service providers and vehicles were the main attraction. Although similar to the annual Touch-a-Truck event hosted by the Paducah Parks Department, this event was designed to be "sensory friendly" and did not feature the bright lights and loud noises that might be upsetting for children with special needs.

McCracken County Sheriff Jon Hayden said the event was beneficial not only to the children and their families, but law enforcement.

"We get to see the reactions these kids have to us," said Hayden. "We want these children to associate emergency services with friendly people and safety."

Hayden said the sheriff's department regularly participates in events to acquaint children with his department, but that this was the first directed toward those with special needs.

Jennifer Bunting attended the event with her 9-year-old son, Chayton, who has autism.

"It makes him happy to see other kids that are like him. It's a learning process," Bunting said. Bunting, a Marshall County resident, said events like these help fight the sense of struggling on your own with these types of issues all throughout the community.

The event also provided Bunting with information on a potentially life-saving service, Project LifeSaver. Bunting expressed interest in the service, stating she had never heard of it.

The national program is offered locally by the sheriff's department with McCracken County Emergency Management. The program provides tracking device bracelets to those prone to wander, such as individuals with Alzheimer's, autism and other cognitive conditions, to aid in a speedy rescue if they were to go missing.

Detective Sarah Martin with the sheriff's department runs the project locally.

"In the last three months, we've had four children with special needs enroll in the program," said Martin, who added that interest is increasing, particularly among families with special needs children. Previously the service had been most sought by those with Alzheimer's patients in their families.

The sheriff's department has 10 Project LifeSaver bracelets, with six currently in use. Martin expected Friday's event to increase interest, and stated she had the funding to expand the program if needed.

Contact Daniel Paxton, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8667.

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