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Safety Tips and Products for Autistic Kids | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey


Every parent worries about their child’s safety. Caregivers of autistic children often worry more, and for good reason. Autistic children are both more vulnerable and more likely to place themselves in harm’s way than neurotypical kids (kids who are developing as expected at the same age).

Fortunately, there are a number of steps their parents and guardians can take to avoid risk and make it easier to address safety issues when they do come up.

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Why Safety Is an Issue for Autistic Children

With autism can come a number of different safety risks, and a child with lower support needs isn’t necessarily safer. Here are some of the autism parenting concerns to keep in mind, depending upon a child’s age, needed level of support, personality, and behaviors.

  • Wandering, or Elopement: Many autistic children, and quite a few adults with more intense autism symptoms, tend to walk away from home or school. These individuals rarely have a specific direction in mind, and the motivating event may be hard to pin down. Some parents report that their child wanders or runs away on a regular basis. When this happens, of course, the child is vulnerable to accident, exposure, or even abuse.
  • Accidents and Falls: Some autistic children are much more likely than their neurotypical peers to climb, squeeze into tiny spaces, throw heavy objects, play with dangerous materials, and otherwise put themselves into harm’s way.
  • Bullying and Abuse: While children with higher support needs can certainly be the victims of bullying, autistic kids with low support needs are very vulnerable. Bullies tend to pick on people who have fewer friends, behave oddly, or are unable to defend themselves effectively. Autistic kids often fit that bill.
  • Negative Encounters With Emergency Personnel and Police: Autistic children and teens can run into a range of problems when interacting with police and first responders. Communication challenges can lead to misunderstandings, and sensory responses to alarms and sirens can set off negative behaviors. Fear and anxiety can make autistic children less willing to respond appropriately to safety instructions.

Tips to Lower Safety Risks for Autistic Kids

In many cases, it’s possible to lower the risk of injury or other issues by putting simple changes in place at home, at school, and in the community. Here are a few low cost or free suggestions for worried parents:

  • For kids with lower support needs, some clearly defined rules, social stories, visual reminders, and other educational techniques may stop dangerous behavior.
  • It can also be very helpful to observe your child’s behaviors and try to determine what events are most likely to trigger elopement or attract your child away from the safety of their home. If you can eliminate some of those triggers (loud noises, certain clothes), you can significantly reduce the problem.
  • When selecting and installing locks for doors and windows, imagine yourself in your child’s shoes. Could you reach and turn the bolt? Could you easily open and slip out the window? Choose locks, bolts, and window latches that are inaccessible for your child. Keep keys hidden.
  • If you have a pool, install a safety fence and perimeter alarm.
  • When furnishing your home, think about climbing and other safety issues. When your child was a toddler you probably “babyproofed,” but now you may need to “childproof” your home. Avoid open bookcases or, if you must have them, fasten them securely to the wall. Keep all dangerous items such as knives and matches safely locked or in cupboards too high to reach. If necessary, put latches on the oven.
  • Keep a close and careful eye on your child’s school experiences. As often as possible, pop in to see how things are going for your child (especially during unstructured times such as recess and lunch). Autistic children may not recognize or be able to describe bullying or put-downs, so it may be up to you and the teacher to ensure that your child is not a victim. Your child’s teacher may also be able to work with you on reducing their wandering and other dangerous behaviors.
  • Be in touch with your community first responders and police before any issues arise. Provide first responders with photos of your child, information about behaviors and challenges, and suggestions for helping your child to remain calm. And, of course, provide emergency contact information.

Top Safety Products to Protect Autistic Kids

Once you’ve put all these measures in place, you may want to consider additional products that can help protect your child.

Locks and Latches 

If your autistic child is capable of opening a bolt, opening a lock, and you’ve tried both raising the locks and hiding the keys, now is the time to get creative. Two innovative locking devices come with high ratings:

  • Lockey Keyless Locks: These double-sided keyless locks use combination keypads that can be changed as needed. Choose from a deadbolt, level, or knob configuration.
  • Guardian Lock: The Guardian Lock is a patented device that can be used to lock doors that are not protected by existing bolts or locks. It’s an ideal way to keep your child safe when you’re visiting friends or family, in a hotel, etc.
  • Angel Guard: This unusual product covers your child’s seatbelt release, making it difficult for them to unbuckle themselves while in the car.

If you are really worried about losing track of your child when you’re out in public in a new location, consider using a toddler “leash” or just holding hands to avoid the possibility of a disaster.

Alarms

If your child is likely to wander into unsafe areas of the house or out the door, alarms can be a great way to signal danger. There is a wide range of options, including simple bells that ring when a door is opened and electronic alarms that use motion sensors:

  • Smart Caregiver Economy Wireless Monitor & Motion Sensor is just one of many systems available for alerting caregivers to an autistic family member’s wanderings. 
  • GE Window and Door Chime is a less expensive option that responds when someone attempts to physically open a door or window.
  • Shop bells and jingle bells: For daytime use (or if you’re a very light sleeper), consider placing low-cost shop bells or strips of Christmas jingle bells over doors or windows.

Tracking Devices

Some autistic people elope, no matter how carefully parents and caregivers manage the environment. When that happens, safety depends on your ability to quickly and accurately track and find your loved one. Fortunately, there is a wide range of GPS tracking devices on the market at different price points. Be sure you choose one that will not be removed (ordinary wristbands, for example, may not be a good choice).

  • AMBER Alert GPS is both a two-way communication device and a GPS. It also issues an alert to a pre-selected group of people via email. Use a computer or mobile app to track your child and make use of custom safety tools.
  • Care Trak was originally designed to track people with dementia but is equally helpful for tracking autistic people. It’s a favorite tool for police, fire departments, and other first responders who use it to locate individuals at risk.

ID Bracelets and Cards

If your child does wander and you can’t locate them immediately, bracelets and ID cards can help others to help you.

  • Alert Me Bands are adjustable and cannot be removed by the wearer. They’re a simple concept—a medical alert bracelet that contains a wealth of information about your child’s diagnosis, emergency contacts, allergies, etc.
  • Kheelz: Ice Card and Medical Alert ID System for Children is a unique way to be sure your child is carrying a card and medical alert with them. The card is carried in a special shoe insert; a special tag on the shoe alerts emergency personnel to the location of the card.
  • Kid Safe Child ID™ Card is a credit card sized item you carry in your wallet that contains photos and emergency information to share with anyone helping you to locate and care for your child.

Give your child plenty of practice in being found, too. Most autistic children are more comfortable with people and activities they know well. If your child has an ID bracelet, have them practice showing the bracelet to neighbors and family members.

Introduce your child to police officers and other first responders. Teach your child basic phrases (“I’m lost,” for example) or have them practice showing a personal ID card to a stranger.

Connecting With Others to Keep Autistic Kids Safe

Naturally, no one can watch their child 24/7, but here are a few tips for avoiding emergencies:

  • If you are outside of your safety zone (home or school, for most people), be sure one person is assigned the job of keeping an eye on your autistic child. Beaches, amusement parks, and parking lots are all particularly dangerous.
  • Don’t allow embarrassment to put your child in jeopardy. Yes, it feels weird to set up an alarm outside your child’s room when you’re visiting family—but if the alternative is a lost child, you may need to swallow your pride.
  • Talk to your neighbors. The more your neighbors know about your child the better they’ll understand them, and the more comfortable they’ll feel giving you a call if they notice your child out and about at an odd time of day. Neighbors can also be enlisted, if your child goes missing.

Summary

If your autistic child wanders, is nonverbal, or is likely to engage in dangerous or inappropriate behavior, then you can try tools designed to help you manage your child’s environment and keep a vigilant watch. Devices, locks, alarms, or systems can be used to protect your child.

No system is perfect, and accidents happen to the best of us. But you can radically increase your child’s safety by taking action before problems arise. Steps to take include contacting your neighbors and connecting with law enforcement to introduce your child.

By Lisa Jo Rudy

Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.

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