Survival Bags for Children with Autism
April is Autism Awareness Month but that doesn’t mean our awareness of their struggle fades in other months. Let’s pick up where we left off with the post – Emergency Preparedness for Children with Autism.
If you take the time to make your 72-hour survival bags, they are really going to be your life saver! Not just in a literal sense, but because what you put in the bag will help your autistic child cope in an emotional sense. As in all things, preparation is key.
Do what you can to have your kids help you put their kit together. This will give you time to explain the things in it, what it will do, and why its important. Give autistic children the opportunity to wear their pack around for awhile to get used to it and the idea of wearing it.
Surprises are never good, so always introduce emergency preparedness plans and items slowly and in advance.
A backpack is recommended for these kids if they are able to carry it. This gives them an added measure of security, knowing that they have all their preparations with them. It also provides needed compression for those with sensory issues, which has a calming and leveling effect, This is going to be an important element that helps them deal with the trauma and stress.
If you really are concerned about whether your child can handle their own bag, consider combining theirs with yours. That will let you monitor where it is and what’s going into and out of it. There are many options that make this more feasible than carrying two overwhelming backpacks like a strained camel. I recommend the suitcase idea from our “Starting a 72-hour kit” post.
Most of their go bag will be the same as everyone else’s in the under 12 set. Even packing only a portion of their go bag items into their own personal pack will provide the sensory benefits they need.
Other considerations when compiling your survival bags:
- // Food sensitivities and allergies (gluten free for instance) – not just for their bag but for the entire family. You will be living in close quarters and these normally off limit items will be more accessible than ever. This is especially important if their allergies are severe, as contact with allergens could make the situation go from bad to worse.
- // It is extremely important that the food and items packed are familiar to your child.
- // Sensory needs – headphones, weighted vests (or just encourage them to wear their kit all day), clothing that meets their acceptance (used clothing is better since they can usually feel the difference between new and used), sunglasses, etc
- // Your occupational therapist can help you figure out what to use. Now is the time to look for solutions so you can have the best options ready to go when you need it most.
- // Comfort items- these need to be used familiar items and will extend beyond normal comfort items. Silverware and dishes they normally eat with, the same clothes (interchange for a while or wash repeatedly) that they have at home. Your bag needs to be an extension of the home they left.
- // Pay attention to your child’s triggers and what helps them cope. Then add these to your bag and the special needs form.
- // Entertainment should be based on your child’s favorite things (history, art, Pokemon, whatever) and be varied enough to maintain their attention. Don’t pack things that are too challenging or easy; look for a balance to avoid melt downs. If you HAVE to bring a game boy or DVD player – pack LOTS OF BATTERIES or purchase a solar charger.
- // Hands free lighting – this is important for adults as well. Children probably won’t go for a headlamp unless they’ve been introduced to it early on, but you will definitely need to make sure you have one for your pack. You’ll need both hands free at all times to help, comfort and guide them to the best of your ability. Consider packing Glow Stick Bracelets or necklaces. They are a terrific distraction for kids.
- // Luggage tag – This should include a family picture, their name, your contact info, and information about triggers and helps if possible. If they get separated from you this will help others be able to find you, and help them to be more aware of your child’s special needs. The tag is to remain on their survival kit at all times. if you want to have a medical bracelet type they can wear that would work too, but I recommend keeping it in the pack and putting it on them once you are in a safe place. I never recommend having your child’s name on anything that a stranger can easily read and fool your kid into thinking they know you. We live in a scary world sometimes.
It won’t be possible to completely avoid overwhelming your child, but there is a lot you can do to buy as much time as possible. These tips will carry your child a long way, before they hit critical mass. As parents we know our children best and know what will be the greatest help and hindrance to them.
We are their greatest advocate and tool to preparing them for a disaster.
Do you have any other ideas to make a survival bag for children with autism even more effective? Share your ideas in the comments below.
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