A recent study found that 1/3 of children with autism are likely to wander away from safe environments. While these results indicate that need for more effective solutions, what can we do now to help keep our kids safe? Scott Fowler, who is an educator and the parent of a son with autism, offers safety tips for parents looking for help. This article originally appeared in the January 2015 edition of the OARacle newsletter.
- Take care of you! We all work so hard seeing to the special needs of our children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that we forget to do this. Eat well, get rest, and seek out positive activities for yourself—and give yourself permission to recharge and rejuvenate.
- Get an ID card for your child. For both the verbal and non-verbal individual with ASD, an ID card is a necessity that can have profound positive effects in many circumstances. Statistics bear out a scary fact: The average person with autism is seven times more likely to interact with law enforcement than the general population. An ID card the child has been trained to use can help him or her get help when needed and help responders provide help. Having an ID for your child will help this process as the individual can be taught to show the card when needed. There are multiple sources for ID cards on the Internet, with prices ranging from free to a nominal charge.
- Register your child with local law enforcement. Make a time to visit your local law enforcement offices and provide staff with documents (medical diagnosis, pertinent medical information, residence address, etc.). This simple step will go a long way should a situation occur and save time.
- Visit first responders. By setting up a time to visit fire, police, and other first responders, you train your child to trust and identify them. You also have the opportunity to educate first responders a bit about your child, and they will be more than happy that you did so.
- Practice safety habits. Make a safety plan for home, school, and social activities by building social stories (OAR’s safety guide has pointers and tips) and practice, practice, practice.
- Educate school staff and caretakers. Take some time to set up a meeting with school administrators, your child’s teacher, and support staff to “re-introduce” your child to them and any pertinent issues that are either ongoing or on the horizon. Remember that you know your child best. While we as parents make daily mental checklists with regard to our children, these important professionals in your child’s life may not.
- Re-educate yourself. Take time to re-visit your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) and carefully review the learning goals. Many professionals are available to help you with this. Knowledge is your best tool for advocating for your child.
- You are not alone! It is very easy to feel isolated and alone while raising a child on the spectrum. Find a support group and talk about it with others in the ASD community. Online forums are popular these days and can be worthwhile in our very busy lives, but also be sure to take some time to seek out ‘meet and greet’ opportunities. Attend a local or national conference.
- Give yourself time to breathe. I can’t stress the importance of this: the simple fact is that raising a child on the spectrum is no easy task, filled with ups and downs, good days and not so good ones. In those stressful moments, give yourself a “time out” and communicate that to your child. You will both be better for it, and it teaches both of you to love more and love more compassionately.
- Go with the flow. At the end of the day, there are indeed limits to what you can plan for and foresee. It is okay to smile and laugh, even when things are stressful and difficult. May times kids with ASD change gears with no warning—it is a part and parcel of executive function and social pragmatic issues. Be flexible and hang in there.
About the Author: Scott Fowler is an educator and parent of a child with autism. He has worked in public education for over two decades, serving as a teacher, lead teacher, assistant principal, principal, and in a central office capacity. He has provided trainings for school systems, the hospitality industry, law enforcement and other enterprises that benefit from a better understanding from autism awareness. He is available for speaking engagements, trainings and consultations.
For more information on autism safety, please visit ThinkAutismSafety.org.