In honor of Autism Awareness month, I wanted to post a list of emergency preparedness tips for families affected by autism. According to the CDC, 1 in 88 kids is diagnosed with autism, which means that if you don’t have a child with autism in your family, it is very likely that you know someone who does. Three of my friends have children with autism, and I can see that their disaster planning requires a little more thought than my own.
Of course, one of the challenges in addressing the needs of families affected by autism is that autism is a spectrum disorder; individuals with autism are not all alike, and there is no “right” set of emergency preparedness suggestions for everyone. Parents will need to use their best judgment in determining what will help their child and what will not.
With that in mind, here is a list of the top eight emergency preparedness tips for families affected by autism:
- Use identification. This is especially important for nonverbal children with autism. Disaster planning is all about preparing for times of unexpected change, and changes are often difficult for those with autism, so this may be an important consideration even for verbal children with autism. ID bracelets are great, labeling clothing is a good idea, there are stickers available, and you can check to see whether the police department in your area participates with the Take Me Home project.
- Make a plan together, and practice it ahead so that the child with autism knows the plan well, and if you ever need to rely upon your disaster planning, it will be as comfortable and stress-free as possible, for everyone! Build a 72-hour kit together. Practice eating what you would eat during an emergency so that it is not new. (Some families may wish to consult with a teacher or therapist for suggestions on how to implement this.)
- Minimize emergencies as much as possible by planning to keep things as normal as possible. Stay calm. Store items that will reduce the effects of the disaster (have things that you need, such as pictures, important objects, or prescriptions). Have phone numbers for specialists and teachers, etc, stored somewhere other than only in your phone so that you can stay in touch with them if your emergency is local. Hopefully, your support team is unaffected by the emergency.
- Stick with (and develop) routines within your emergency. For example, if you are able to safely shelter in place after an emergency instead of evacuating your home, that may be helpful. Or, if you must evacuate your home, consider staying somewhere that is already familiar to your child with autism instead of staying somewhere that is local but completely new.
- Avoid environmental toxins, including heavy metals. Unfortunately, many disasters pose an increased risk of exposure to various types of toxins, and people with autism often have trouble getting these things out of their bodies. As you plan your disaster preparedness, include preparations for emergencies that include chemicals. Be sure to have adequate plastic sheeting and duct tape included in your emergency supplies, in case you need to protect the air inside your home. Along the same lines, it is a good idea to have emergency masks on hand; they are inexpensive, and can dramatically reduce exposure to airborne toxins. Some families will also wish to store food that does not contain problem ingredients; eFoods Direct does offer a variety of products that are safe for restricted diets (including some gluten free, lactose free, and soy free products, among other things).
- Prepare on a budget, if you need to. Costs associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be very high—whether you’re paying for therapies and treatments or adapting your house, it is easy to spend a lot of money quickly. If you don’t feel like you can afford to prepare, don’t worry! You can do it! There are many ways to get started with emergency preparedness even on a very limited budget. For ideas to help you get started, check out this article: New to Prepping? Start here!
- Plan for extreme parenting demands. In some ways, you are probably already adapted to this, but an emergency will present new challenges, and if you prepare for them, things will go smoother. An example of how you may choose to plan for extreme parenting demands is, for some, it would be appropriate for one parent to carry the 72 hour kit for the child with autism.
- Develop a support network—if you can find someone else to help in an emergency, it will help everything seem a lot more manageable.
That was my list of the top eight emergency preparedness tips for families affected by autism. What other ways have you found to help your family be prepared for an emergency?