Child Safety is an important issue for all parents. For an autistic parent, it can be difficult to assure our child’s safet. I asked Wendy Goldband, Co-Author of the book “Dangerous Encounters; Avoiding Perilous Situations with Autism – A Streetwise Guide For All Emergency Responders, Retailers, and Parents” the following question:
We here on the news about autistic children being mistreated in school, arrested by the police, restrained and mistreated. How can parents prevent these things from happening to their child?
Below is her answer. I hope you find this as informative as I did.
There is no question that the community at-large including emergency responders, retailers, and educators need autism sensitivity and safety training, and there are ways parents can see that it happens in their community. Emergency responders and parents working together will bring more autism awareness to the community and make each of their jobs easier. Ultimately, however, it is the parent’s responsibility to keep their child with autism safe. The police are not going to knock on your door and ask if you have a disabled child so they will know to watch out for him. Your neighbors aren’t automatically going to know how to react when they see your child acting oddly. It is your responsibility to introduce your child to his community. It is your responsibility to teach your child with autism basic safety rules just as you would a typical child. It is your responsibility to create a safe environment. Here is a list of steps you can take in order to do that so you can prevent serious situations from arising.
1. Safety-proof your home
2. Install screen doors and alarms
Prevent your child from potential mishaps like wandering out of his room and falling down the steps, running out of the house, going to the kitchen and getting a knife, or turning on hot water and burning himself. Replace the bedroom door with a screen door. This way your child has access to the world, but you can also lock the door, if necessary, and still know what he/she is doing. You can also put a screen door with a good lock on your front entrance. That way your child can enjoy looking outside without running out of the house. Don’t forget to teach how to open the door in case of emergency or if you get locked out.
You can also install alarms that sound if the door is opened. You’ll know immediately if your child has opened the door, and even better, your neighbors will know that when they hear the alarm they should look out for your child.
3. Use emergency alert decals
Another way to make your home safe is with emergency alert decals. Start with a decal for firefighters that alerts them to the fact that a child with autism is in a particular room. Put one on your car window that says “Emergency notice – person with autism on board.” Make sure it lists behavior characteristics like “may not respond” and “may be nonverbal.” Now others will be alerted if you’re in an accident.
4. Carry an autism emergency ID card
You should also carry an autism identification card with you in case you’re in an accident and unable to communicate. You need to be sure that people on the scene will know how to approach your child. Choose whatever is most important for strangers to know when approaching your child like nonverbal autistic. Also don’t forget to include your updated telephone and address, contact persons, and important allergies. Carry the laminated ID in your wallet with your license or hang it with your keys.
5. Have your child wear an Emergency ID tag
An ID tag helps identify your child in an emergency situation. If he/she were to run or you lost track of him, this tag would help strangers identify and communicate. If your child cannot tolerate a tag hanging on the neck or wrist, attach one with the shoelace to the shoe.
6. Introduce your child in public places you frequent
Go to all the local stores, introduce your child, and explain the disorder. Talk to mall security, your local bus drivers, and of course, your neighbors.
7. Hold an Awareness Day
Awareness Days are another very effective way to inform your community about autism and your child. My co-author, Bill Davis, loves these. He holds barbeques in his backyard for the community. Announce it in the local paper’s calendar and advertise it with flyers. Give out pamphlets and other informational items about autism that you can get from your local Autism Society of America chapter. Invite the local police chief, the mayor, the press, the school administrators and faculty, and your state representative.
8. Register your child
Another thing to do is go to your local police precinct, fire department, ambulance department, and hospital and register your child in their data banks. Give them some pamphlets about autism and a small discussion about your child, where you live, and your phone number. That way if an emergency situation involving your family arises, they will already be aware of what to expect. Provide them with vital information like nonverbal autistic, uses pictures, bites, can become aggressive, etc.
9. Contact your local paper
Call the local newspapers and ask, “Hey, have you done anything on autism? My child has the disorder and I thought you might like to do a little story on what autism is and how we care for him.”
10. Give training sessions to your local emergency workers and schools
My co-author found that it was quite easy to arrange these trainings. He just called up the local training officer of his police department and the persons in charge of the emergency room and paramedic departments. All he said was, “I’m a dad of a child with autism who lives in your neighborhood. It’s important that you know this disorder and I’d like to come and train you about safety.” At the sessions, If you just tell them what you know about the disorder itself and how to handle only your own child in these situations, you can’t go wrong. Of course, you can give them a copy of our book that goes into step-by-step details for each type of responder and the situations they might find themselves in. You’re waking them up what the disorder is, you’re giving them a tool, and you’re keeping your child safe. If your training sessions are successful why not take them a step further and give educational presentations to professional associations for social workers, speech therapists, and occupational therapists? Be sure to include pediatricians too.
11. Teach safety procedures to your child
This may be the last thing I mention, but it is no less important. Teach your child how to cross the street, not to leave the house, to stay by you when you shop, how to talk to strangers, how to get help, car safety, and fire safety. Practice buckling the seat belt and what to do if locked in the car accidentally. Practice how to answer a stranger asking him his name. Repeat fire drills in the house. Does your child know what a red light means and how to cross the street? Practice! Can he successfully go up and down an escalator? What about revolving doors? The list in endless, but must be addressed if you want to keep your child safe.
Wendy Goldband, MSW, is a Registered Representative and Insurance Producer with an expertise in special needs and long term care planning. She is the former Long Term Care Senior Marketing Manager for Crump Insurance Services, the largest life insurance brokerage in the nation. Author of Breaking Autism’s Barriers and Dangerous Encounters:Avoiding Perilous Situations with Autism, she believes in both the physical and financial safety of your special needs child.