Summer Safety in the Autism Community
June 26, 2015
School will soon be out for summer, which means your child’s daily routine will likely change. As the autism safety specialist at The Autism Alliance of Michigan, Scott Schuelke wants every person with autism to have summer fun and adventure while staying safe.
Summer Safety Plan
Summer often introduces new day care providers, family members, or summer camp staff to help care for a person with autism. Those caregivers may be less familiar with how autism affects the care a child needs. In addition, during family vacations, travel, and visits to attractions, there will be many people who do not have a high level of autism awareness interacting with your family and your child with autism specifically.
To make sure you are ready to introduce your child to new people, develop a safety plan. The plan should include Emergency Information Contact cards for home and camp as well as placement in any vehicles in which the child may travel. Make sure each card contains current emergency contact information and a current photo of your child. You should also consider providing a copy to your local police station, fire department, and 911 center.
A parent from Rochester, Mich., shared a great way to always have a current photo of your child. She takes a photo of her child each day with her cell phone. That way, if her child ever wanders away, she always has a current photo readily available, including the clothes her child is wearing that day.
Summer is a great time to introduce your child to your neighbors, since so many are outdoors. Talk to them about your child, and the tendency of people with autism to wander, and ask them to notify you immediately if they see your child wander from your yard.
Summer School, Day Care, or Camps
All caregivers must understand that a person with autism has a higher likelihood of wandering or unknowingly putting themselves in danger. Care providers will have to have their eyes on your child at all times. Look for a summer program that can assign a staff member to your child or to a very small group of children. Also, babysitters should understand why extra door locks and noise-alerting alarms are installed or necessary in your home.
In addition to preparing caregivers to keep a close eye on your child, it’s also a good idea to check your home for any potential hazards that need to be taken care of in advance. Make sure to lock away all household toxins to prevent life-threatening situations.
Prepare all caregivers in your home and in other places for your child’s unique ‘meltdown’ triggers, and the calming strategies that work best for your child.
Beaches, Water Parks, and Amusement Parks
Never allow your child to be away from a trusted adult when going to the beach or water park. Don’t hesitate to have your child wear a life preserver. Take the time to introduce your child to the staff and lifeguards, tell them that your child has autism, and explain how to communicate with your child, and about any behaviors they should anticipate. Make sure your child knows and understands the rules to the best of his or her abilities. Pictures or social stories can help with those rules.
Many families travel to a summer destination. Before your trip, review the destination website of any attraction or park. Some destinations will make special accommodations for your child with autism. They may also offer a social story to help prepare your child for a new adventure.
The Detroit Zoo is an excellent example of an autism-friendly destination. All employees, including more than 1,200 volunteers, have been trained in autism awareness and safety, and a social story is available to help children with autism throughout their visit.
An airport can be a particularly difficult situation for a person with autism. Given all of the sounds, lights, people, and hustle and bustle, there may be too much stimulation. If you anticipate that your child may have a hard time in an airport, contact the airport authority before your scheduled flight. Find out if the airport offers an autism program to walk your child through the airport, let him or her sit on a plane, or review a social story that will help prepare your child for the flight.
Contact the Transport Security Administration’s (TSA) TSA Cares line, 855-787-2227, at least 72 hours in advance, if you and your child will need help navigating the security lines and search areas. TSA will also assign you a passenger support specialist to assist you at the airport. Remember to carry your child’s emergency information cards with you, including one for any rental vehicles you may travel in.
Developing a safety plan before summer begins helps prevent tragedies before they happen and give you the chance to have an enjoyable and safe summer with your family