autism awareness and safety

Autism Awareness and Safety

By Kelly McKinnon-Bermingham, director of behavior intervention and Anna Laakman, director of education and training, at The Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders

April is Autism Awareness Month. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders has made safety one of our priorities for our families.  That means that there are over 45,000 people living in Orange County with autism. As our temperatures start to warm up, there are a few things we should be thinking about when it comes to safety and kids with ASD.

Individuals with ASD often present a unique set of skills as well as challenges. One of those challenges is safety. There are so many important safety considerations that parents, caregivers, providers and schools need to be aware of when interacting with or helping an individual with ASD.  Nearly half of all children with ASD will wander away from a safe environment at some point during their lives. Of those, roughly a third are non-verbal. We also know that individuals with ASD are often drawn to roadways, trains, and water. In past years, accidental drowning accounted for 91 percent of deaths reported in children with ASD age 14 and younger who went missing.  There are resources available to help prevent wandering and related accidents. Autism Speaks has several tools and tips for parents, schools and communities to help support individuals with autism.

To help prevent wandering, you can:

Secure your home

  • Make sure you secure entries and exits to your home in a way that an individual with ASD cannot easily leave on their own. Motion detection systems are also an option so family members are alerted if someone is leaving a safe space.
  • Place STOP signs at exits and doorways. Practice stopping and waiting to hear “Go”.

Consider tracking devices

  • There are many GPS devices that families can purchase and utilize with individuals with ASD who may be at a higher risk for wandering. Many devices can be synced with your cell phone or tablets so that you can easily locate an individual and you are alerted if they leave an expected location.

Consider ID bracelets

  • If an individual wanders from a safe space, it is helpful to have some basic identifying information so that people know who to contact.
  • Label or write name and phone numbers into your child’s clothing.

Teach your child to swim

  • We know that many individuals on the spectrum are drawn to water and it is crucial that they be able to swim.
  • Most cities offer swimming lessons or aquatics programs that can be found on the city’s website.
  • Use social stories with your child to explain when and where they can and cannot swim.

Alert your neighbors

  • Informing close and familiar neighbors regarding your child’s safety concerns can help set up phone trees and provide other families that may be on the look out for your child with necessary information.

Alert first responders

  • Your local police department or fire department may have additional resources and tips that you can use to help support your child with ASD. You may also alert your local police department of your address and your child’s unique needs, especially wandering. Police departments will want to know places your child may like to frequent, their interests and any other unique communication concerns your child may have.

Together, we can help prevent wandering. Learn more about additional safety resources.

CHOC Children’s is a member of The Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, in collaboration with UC Irvine.

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