Emergency Preparedness for Children with Autism
April is Autism Awareness month and we want to share our thoughts on how to keep our precious children -and lets face it they are special in every wonderful way! – prepared and safe in a disaster.
As any parent of a child with autism can tell you, more preparation is needed even for small things, and that happens on a regular basis. The idea of preparing for a disaster with an autistic child probably sounds impossible or at least extremely daunting. Have no fear PreparednessMama is here!
You will start with the same tools and consideration as you would preparing for any child. These include creating a basic survival kit, gathering information in your evacuation binder or box, and creating your family emergency plans. Now all you have to do is add a few special ingredients to better meet your child’s particular needs and circumstances.
Get Your Stuff Together
It is important to keep all your kits and supplies in a handy location, but that’s not actually what I’m talking about. Children with autism typically have other medical considerations you take into account and having all that information accessible is vitally important. I recommend keeping it with your emergency plan.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has created the form – Emergency Information for Children with Special Needs – a form that we recommend adding to your information binder and go kit. Other Information to include with your plan:
- // Names and contact information for all doctors and therapists
- // A complete copy of your child’s health records
- // List of surrounding medical facilities that offer treatments
- // List of all models and serial numbers for all medical equipment
- // List of triggers and helps for behavior issues
Putting this information together with your information binder or evacuation box will also help you be more mindful of what to include in your emergency plans and survival kits.
Planning Ahead for a Disaster – Include Your Child
A minor change of plans can cause big, big problems for children on the autism spectrum. Your biggest tool for these children is preparing them for change in every possible way. Be sure to include your children in your preparations. For example if your child is interested in gardening, learn how to grow your own food as a family. Involving your child in the process of growing and maintaining a garden is a great sensory experience and which is vital in a disaster situation. As a family, design your emergency plans, have them help plan the menu in their 72 hour kit, purchase food and games, load backpacks, and decide what to add or remove from food storage (upon parental approval).
All these things will help children be more mindful of your family’s emergency plan, and also give them a sense of security and safety, during and after the disaster.
It is especially important to make drills and practice be a VERY regular part of your life. The more familiar your children are with the drills, the better your child will handle them when it’s real. This also allows you to ease them into the situation so they do not become overwhelmed.
To better prepare kids to deal with the reality of a disaster, create as realistic a drill as possible, try –
- // a lights out scenario
- // make sure you practice anytime of day and night
- // use different sounds and loud noises
- // simulate shaking if you live in earthquake zones
By practicing ahead you can take it one step at a time. Walk through the evacuation routes a few times. Explain how lights will probably go out, allow them to kill the lights and take the familiar evacuation route you have taught them. Ease into this while educating as best as possible. Practicing also allows you to know what they will have the biggest issues with, be it sights, sounds or movement. This will help you make the proper changes to your emergency plans ahead of time and test them before it is necessary to really evacuate.
When drafting your emergency plan there are some important additions to include.
- // Have a buddy that they are familiar with. This applies at home and school. They need someone who can help keep them calm(er), explain each step and what is happening, assist them where needed, and provide a comforting, calming, familiarity to focus on.
- // Be sure to have the “chosen one” familiar with your child’s triggers, how to help them, and that they know the most effective means of communicating with them.
- // Naturally, they need to know your family plan forwards and backwards.
- // Take into account their triggers and sensitivities. If sounds set them off, be sure to have headphones close at hand for emergencies. If music is soothing to them, have a prepared iPod ready. Lights = sunglasses, touch = a route that’s less used to avoid bumping into panicked masses. Be creative.
- // Remember to include a medical bracelet and register with local fire and police. This will assure that those who come to help in the event of a disaster are as prepared to help your child as you are.
- // All of your plans should be shared with, and reviewed by, those at your child’s school that are with them during the day. Don’t just hand them a copy and hope they get to it. Review it together! This will help them with the emergency plans for their classrooms and they may have some helpful information for your plan as well.
- // Be sure to request a copy of your school’s emergency procedures. (WARNING: this can actually be ridiculously difficult. Try asking only for those that pertain to disaster situations, or ask the teacher to write them out for you.)
Remember, YOU are your child’s greatest advocate and tool to prepare them for a disaster. You can do it!