Autism & Safety

Give your child the encouragement they need and see them fly. Children with autism are special children and they need special care especially when it’s about their safety and security. You wouldn’t leave any stone unturned in the attempt to provide a safe and secure zone to your autistic child, would you? I can hear your loud resonating “No”. I know you love your autistic child and in no situation would you want your child to land up in the unsafe zone. I am happy that we are learning a lot about autism this month. With this article, you will equip yourself to be a better parent and caregiver.

Facts state that nearly half of the children with ASD wander off from a safe and supervised place at some point in time in their life. Nearly 91% accounts for deaths due to drowning in children with autism after wandering, it’s really horrifying, isn’t it?  We should be well prepared before an emergency happens- and extra prepared when dealing with autism.

What Parents Can Do:

Ensure safety at home

·         Know wandering triggers: Children with ASD can be impulsive and might wander or bolt away trying to remove themselves from the overwhelming sensory stimuli or from anxiety-inducing situations. They typically wander to get something of interest, such as water, park, trains tracks, etc.

·         Secure your home:  Shut and locks the doors that lead your child outside, irrespective of age. Place an alarm on doors to alert you as the door opens, to keep you vigilant.

Swimming pools at home should be fenced to prevent the child from getting to the pool. The fence should be at least four-foot-high, non-climbable, four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate. Pool alarms and door alarms should also be in place. Giving your child swimming lessons are good however, they are not enough to prevent drowning. Make a checklist of nearby ponds, lakes, and pools to look for if a child wanders. 

·         Work on communication and behavior strategies: Teaching your child strategies to self-calm when stressed also how to appropriately respond to “no”, this can make a big difference. Always keep your child engaged to reduce his urge/opportunity to wander.

·         Consider monitoring technology and identification:  It may be helpful to use things like GPS devices, medical alert tags, and even their name marked in clothing because over 1/3 of children with ASD who wander are rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number. You can also check programs such as Project Lifesaver and SafetyNet Tracking available through your local law enforcement agencies.

·         Have an emergency wandering plan: Have it written safe with you. This includes all the information about for child, his official diagnosis, identification mark, medications, and medical needs. Call 911 immediately if your child is missing. Have emergency point persons well in advance appointed to help you contact neighbors, fax alert forms and inform local law enforcement. Make a list where your child is likely to go even to dangerous places and send your search angels if you have them already assigned to search for your child.

Ensure safety at school

It is advisable and critical to address wandering issues to your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Call a meeting with school staff, administrators, and your child’s IEP team to make them aware of the past wandering situations if any, also give them an overview of the autism wandering issue. You as a parent may amend the IEP and adjust the particular items,  if an incident occurs. Make sure you are communicated immediately in writing should there be any incident of wandering on or off campus. Also, this should be made clear to them that under no circumstances should your child be left alone. Sharing the well-documented wandering related past information (where was your child found in the past? By what is your child fascinated or obsessed? The most likely place where your child could be drawn to near the campus? Etc… ) with your child’s school staff will help prepare them if such an incident occurs at school

                Get rid of all possible triggers that have led to or could lead to wandering. Be sure of blocking off all pools, lakes, etc. in the area of your child’s school to avoid any chance of your child accessing them. This is one such a scenario; you could think of other triggers as well and determine how to eliminate them.

Be well informed about the school’s policies on wandering prevention.  Voice your concern related to security measures used by the school if you think something is missing. Security of your child at school is vital and critical. Introduce your child to all security staff and provide the security team with the filled out “Elopement Alert Form “containing more specific information about your child.

Along with wandering-related information and wandering-prevention measures, include safety skills in your child’s IEP and therapy programs if you can.

Help your child with autism learn skills to keep themselves safe:

Safety of your child is often in your and caregiver’s hand. Figuring out the skills your child needs to be safe and protected at home, school and in the community is an important step towards creating a comprehensive safety plan. Sit with your child’s behavioral therapists, teachers, IEP team and doctors to determine the specific safety skills and learning goals your child needs to learn to stay safe and away from harm.

Teach your child how to react, respond and change their behavior when faced with danger. Here are some safety tools you can use to teach your child how to be safe.

• Visual supports/prompts: You can use images of a stop and wait signs wherever needed, ask them to follow your instructions of stop or wait. Praise and encourage them to following this rule of visual prompt in other settings as well.

 • Social stories: Stories that have pictures and text which can be used to explain a situation and expected behavior by providing step-by-step instruction.

• Visual schedules/charts

• Role-playing/modeling the desired behavior to practice ways to act safely in real-life situations

• Consistent reinforcement for safe behavior and consequences for unsafe behavior across all settings

Safety skills or goals my child should learn: 

Learning safety skills that can help keep your child out of harm across all settings is important. I am enlisting a few examples of general safety goals that could be included in a behavior plan or individualized education plan (IEP):

• Responding to name and questions about personal information such as phone number.     

 • Seek parent/ teacher when a stranger approaches

 • Requesting help when lost

• Safely crossing the street

• Waiting when necessary (while getting out of a car, walking in a parking lot)

• Identifying boundaries (do not leave the house)

• Requesting to leave a classroom or activity

• Using a cell phone

• Refrain from running/bolting

 Safety of our loved ones are our utmost priority. With the right information, we can now eliminate the chances of wandering in our children with autism. Let’s share our children’s safety concerns and related goals with our immediate family members, friends, neighbors and other trusted adults with whom they regularly interact with. Use all that we know to mitigate wandering. We can provide a safe haven for our children. Do we believe that!

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