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Non-Profit Spotlight

Isaac Foundation

There isn’t much that scares a tough, seasoned firefighter.

These are people who, on any given day, will lay their lives on the line for the sake of protecting others. But on days like today, Holly Bahme Lytle often sees a bit of fear in their eyes. “When it’s their first time, some of first responders can be pretty nervous, because they don’t know exactly what to expect,” she says.

It’s an “Autism in the Wild” Station Day, and a group of families is about to enter the fire station. The goal is simple: to help both first responders and individuals affected by autism spectrum disorders (ASD)  and other developmental and cognitive impairments gain experience interacting with one another in a fun, stress-free environment. This builds a level of comfort and awareness that could save lives in an actual emergency.

Holly is the Founder and Executive Director of the ISAAC Foundation, a local nonprofit that offers many kinds of support to those affected by autism, from therapeutic weighted blankets to support groups to grant funding that helps families overcome financial and insurance difficulties related to therapy. The foundation is named after Isaac Dennis Lytle, Holly’s son.

Isaac was given an ASD diagnosis at age 2, and was making hard-won progress through therapeutic care when he tragically passed away shortly before his fourth birthday, from an non-autism-related heart condition. Shortly before he passed, Isaac had gained enough verbal skills to say, “I love you.” His memory has launched an effort that is reaching hundreds of people in the Spokane area, and becoming a model for other communities around the nation.  

The Station Days are just one part of the foundation’s “Autism in the Wild” initiative. The idea is that autism looks much different in real-life situations (“in the wild”) than it does studying in a classroom. Another innovative effort has been the Isaac Alert Program, an easy way for families to register their address and provide important notes to first responders about a person with ASD who resides at the address. This allows the dispatch office to communicate information that can help avoid surprises or tragedies: for example, firefighters knowing why a person is nonverbal or acting in a combative way in a stressful situation can help shape how an emergency situation unfolds. INB is proud to support the ISAAC Foundation in a number of ways, including as event sponsor for Autism in the Wild Station Days.

Back at the fire station, with the aid of balloons and bubbles and good-natured fist bumps, slowly but surely, trust is building and fear is being chipped away — for everyone involved. Another Autism in the Wild Station Day, another success.

“It is fun to see how the first responders take pride in their newfound comfort,” Holly says later. “I remember one firefighter who was the most apprehensive one at first, but then he became the guy who was most excited to prepare others who hadn’t done a Station Day yet.”

Sometimes, simply creating a space for relationship and comfort to grow can make a huge difference, especially when it comes to putting parents’ minds at ease. There are many challenges related to having a family member with ASD; losing sleep over emergency preparedness doesn’t have to be one of them.