Franciscan Health Michigan City emergency department staff members and local first responders are better equipped to help patients with autism spectrum disorder thanks to help from one of their own. Crown Point Fire Lt. Matt Kodicek, who also serves as lead EMS instructor in Franciscan Health Crown Point’s emergency management services department, recently conducted Ben’s Blue Bags training sessions for hospital staff and local first responders at Franciscan Health Michigan City.

The bags contain sensory stimulation items for patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that help deescalate over-stimulation during emergency situations. Kodicek leads training to help healthcare workers and first responders recognize patients with ASD and learn about the benefits of sensory stimulation items with the ultimate goal of having better outcomes from emergency situations. Kodicek said 15 out of 1,000 kids have ASD, which crosses all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

“Everyone has a family member or friend or coworker who is on the spectrum and can relate,” Kodicek said. “It helps increase awareness and understanding when you can identify people in your own lives and also recognize it in others during an emergency situation.”

Kodicek was inspired to create Ben’s Blue Bags in honor of his 9-year-old son, Ben, who is on the autism spectrum. The bags are funded by donations, endowments and grants.

Kodicek said every person on the autism spectrum is unique, with different triggers that can cause over stimulation and methods that can help soothe them. Oftentimes the lights and sirens in an emergency situation, such as an at auto accident scene or fire, can cause increased stress for patients with ASD on top of the trauma of the situation itself.

Ben’s Blue Bags contain a variety of items – including Rubik’s cubes, building blocks, noise-canceling headphones, fidget spinners, stress balls, dry-erase boards and markers – that can be offered to patients help in emergency situations.

“They are very helpful with kids regardless of whether they are on the autism spectrum or not,” said Michigan City Fire Capt. Brad Kreighbaum, who has Ben’s Blue Bags on his department’s vehicles. “When you have an emergency situation and kids are present and they’re worried about mommy and daddy, or even when kids are lost for a short time from their families at the lakefront, this can help take their mind off of it for a bit.”

More than 250 fire departments and 2,500 firefighters across the country have received the training. Franciscan Health Michigan City is only the second emergency department in the country to utilize the bags.

Sister M. Petra Nielsen, OSF, vice president of mission integration for Franciscan Health Michigan City, invited Kodicek to lead the recent training.

“There are so many opportunities for these to be used in a variety of departments,” she said. “We’re so thankful for Matt and for all he does for the community.”

For more information about Ben’s Blue Bags, contact Matt Kodicek at

PICTURED  (l-r) Franciscan Health Michigan City Manager of Educational Services Michelle Schwenk, Case Manager Assistant Kylene Morland and Data Analyst Angie Ortega examine sensory stimulations items in Ben’s Blue Bags that help calm patients with autism during a recent training session.