"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." - John 16:33

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Autism Safety

This week the National Autism Association offered a free Big Red Safety Box for families with children on the spectrum.  We were fortunate enough receive one the last time they were giving out these wonderful safety tool boxes.  This year they had 1000 boxes to offer for free and they were gone before the day was out.  This got me thinking...I haven't done a post about safety but it is the number one concern on our list.  Autism is tough for many reasons and one of those reasons is the potential lack of safety awareness.  Our Peanut is one of those children who struggle with safety awareness.  We didn't even realize that we may have to teach our child how to be safe until about a year into his diagnosis.

Autism safety and wandering:
According to Science Daily, the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) did a survey about wandering and elopement.  The results showed that approximately 50% of families report their children with Autism elopes "with the behavior peaking at the age of four."

Along with elopement, children with Autism may not have appropriate safety awareness.  They may not realize that if they step into the road they could be hit by a car, or that certain strangers are not safe to go with.  Even more frightening, there are children on the spectrum that are attracted to water, and if they elope and wander towards a body of water that could (and has) end in tragedy.

Another concern is safety and awareness during an emergency.  If a child with Autism is caught in a burning home with a loud fire alarm, they are unlikely to respond when firefighters call for them and they may even run away and hide from them.  If there is a medical emergency in your home, the paramedics or police may rush in to help, not realizing that there is a child with Autism in the home.  Such a scary situation can cause unpredictable behaviors and reactions from the child.  If the emergency workers are more aware, the situation has the potential to go much smoother.

According to the NH DHHS Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders (page 27), people with ASD are four times more likely to come in contact with police services.  Some behaviors (lack of eye contact, difficulty with communication, and certain behaviors) can be misunderstood by Police and emergency responders.  It is important that personal are trained and made aware.

Safety in the home is another consideration.  We have watched our children to find what their major difficulties are, and have addressed them in a way that works best for our family.

A few things we have done inside and outside our home:
  • At our home we put up a fence as soon as it was possible.  Now when the children are outside playing they can run around and I can have fun with them instead of constantly being in fear of them running out into the street.
  • When ever we leave our home, our children wear an ID bracelet with all of our information and their food allergies.
  • We have locks on all cabinets that are accessible to our children.  Our knives have been stored in a cabinet high above the heads of any child.  We use Tot Lok's in our kitchen and Peanut has yet to be able to get into them!
  • We found that our children did not understand that they needed to stay away from the stove and dishwasher when they were on.  After we tried multiple different solutions we finally found one that worked.  Our children need visuals that are concrete.  I took blue painters tape and used it to put a line from the refrigerator to the counter to block off the major "danger area" in the kitchen.  I then showed them the line and told them, "No crossing the line or timeout."  After a few timeouts they got it!  The line has been with us for about a year and a half and still works. 
  • We took was to add a stop sign to the dishwasher and a PEC's picture to "not touch" on the oven.
Our "danger zone"
  •  Peanut has issues with elopement and has walked right out of the door without hesitation.  We added stop signs to every exit of the house to remind our little angels not to go any further.  We got these signs from our Big Red Safety Box. Signs like this could easily be made at home on a computer and then laminated.
  • Peanut is good at figuring out how things work, and once he was tall enough he not only mastered door knobs but also deadbolts.  We ended up going to a local hardware store and purchased a chain for the top of the door, and it sure has come in handy!
  • Another precaution we have on our doors is door chimes and alarms.  We have a security alarm in our home and so we enabled the option for the door chimes.  Whenever the door is opened it beeps.  Each door has it's own noise so you can easily identify which door was opened.  During the spring and summer time we leave the door open and keep a screen door closed.  Each screen door has a lock, which Peanut mastered this past year.  There were door chimes/alarms included in the Big Red Safety Box.  We attached these to our screen doors.  It makes a louder, higher pitched noise that Peanut can not stand and is VERY effective.
Our main doorway for "Fort Knoxx" aka: our home.
How we have prepared for an emergency:
  • There is an Autism 911 program in the state of NH, which we have signed both our children into.  They have you fill out information about your child and they take your child's picture and attach it to their information (they give you multiple copies).  A copy is given to the local police.  They also have you fill out information and a consent to include the information in the 911 operator system.  If you call 911 from my home, the operator immediately knows that 2 children with Autism live in our home, and what their major struggles may be when an emergency worker enters our home.  The operator can then relay this information as appropriate.  Emergency responders have be educated and trained about ASD.  I have heard a few stories from families who were enrolled into the program and I was happy to hear how amazingly wonderful and aware the emergency worker were!
  • Once enrolled into this program, you are given a window cling for your car and copies of the information about your child.  We took the information and put it in an envelope in the glove box labeled, "911 info".  The window cling states, " Alert.  Person with Autism in the Car.  Please see the glove box from more instructions."  If we are in a car accident and I am unable to communicate, at least my children's medical and behavioral information is available.  This is also good to have for wandering.  If one of my children go missing, I already have their information and picture ready.
  • On our front door of our home we have a window cling we got from the Autism Society of America.  It alerts emergency personal that our children may runaway, hide, or resist help.
Our window cling for the front door.
  • The final thing we have done is we created an emergency binder.  It is by the front door and the binder is labeled "911" in bold red numbers.  
Our binder
  • The binder is separated into 3 sections.  One section is for Peanuts information, one section for Sassy's information and one section for information about Autism (in case we encouter someone who is uneducated about Autism.  The last thing I want to do when my child is missing is spend precious minutes to educate). We have included the information sheet we acquired through the Autism 911 program in our state and we also included our "plan of action" in case of wandering.  We got this from the National Autism Association's,  AWAARE program.

What else can you do?
  • Research and prepare for emergency situations.
  • If you haven't already, add safety goals into your child's IEP (if they have one) or behavioral program.
  • Practice in play.  We pretend to safely cross the street or use the stove when pretend playing.
  • Point it out at every opportunity.  Every time we need to cross a street or parking lot we stop, prompt them to look, and ask them if it's safe, and why or why not.  It's now becoming a habit for them and I'm making sure they understand why it is or isn't safe.
  • The Autism Society has a nice overview of things to be sure of in your home.
  • You can write a social story for your child about whatever you may have a concern about.  You can read about social stories HERE.   
  • Research your area to find local Autism safety programs.
    • For information in NH visit Gateways Community Services: Autism 911 or Easter Seals NH: Autism 911
  • Just because the NAA ran out of Safety Boxes, doesn't mean you can't make your own!  Here are a few links to get you started:
Other resources:
God Bless!
Mommy Provost

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