RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – A local non-profit is reaching out to first responders to give them the tools to better interact with people who are on the autism spectrum. Elevate the Spectrum helps New Mexicans with autism and their families with everything from legislation to community events and more. Now, they want to improve how first responders interact with those on the spectrum.

“We wanted to see best outcomes with our first responders,” said Kristina Martinez, president of Elevate the Spectrum. “That can be a little tricky. People who are nonverbal or are verbal but become nonverbal in an emergency situation, it makes it very difficult for first responders to help.”

They’re putting together a few hundred “hero bags” to go to first responders. They include fidget toys, noise-canceling headphones, and whiteboards or pictorial sheets to help those who are non-verbal communicate.

“In the bag, we had several meetings to decide, you know, what would be the best the best items to put in here,” said Tarra Main, vice president of Elevate the Spectrum. “It would just make things easier for the first responders to understand how that person or individual is feeling.”

In a time where there’s a more intense focus on how first responders interact with the community, the non-profit hopes to bridge that communication gap. It’s a project close to home for the founders.

“Safety weighed heavily on our minds,” said Martinez. “We’re both moms we both have kids on the spectrum and that was our biggest concern.”

So far, they’ve distributed bags to the Rio Rancho fire and police departments, but they hope the bags will catch on around the state and go to all first responders in New Mexico. Those interested in donating to the initiative can reach out to Elevate the Spectrum.