Survival Bags for Children with Autism
Just because April was Autism Awareness Month doesn’t mean our awareness of them fades in May. So to pick up where we left off in April…
Survival bags 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 them help you put their kit together. This will give you time to explain what it is, and what it will do, and why its important. Give autistic children the opportunity to wear their pack around for awhile and get used to it or at least the idea of wearing it.
Surprises are never good, so always introduce emergency preparedness plans and items slowing and in advance.
A backpack is recommended for these kids, if they are able to carry it. This gives 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 levelizing effect, something that will be important in helping 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 so you can monitor where it is and whats going into and out of it. There are many options that make this more feasible than carrying two overwhelming back packs like a strained camel. I recommend the suitcase.
Most of their bag will be the same as everyone else’s in the under 12 set. Even packing only a portion of their survival bag into their personal pack will still provide the same benefits.
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 food and items packed are familiar to them.
- Sensory needs – head phones, 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. Silver ware 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 their triggers and what helps them cope and add these to your bag and the special needs form.
- Entertainment should be based on their fetish (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 – LOTS OF BATTERIES or purchase a solar charger.
- Hands free lighting – this one goes 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.
- 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, help them and be more aware of their needs in the process. 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 them, but there is a lot you can do to buy as much time as possible and carry your child as far as possible, 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.