In this video blog, I talk about how to keep a child with moderate to severe autism (who has limited language abilities) safe since there are many children (and even teens, and adults) with autism who have the language and/or cognitive functioning of a young child making safety awareness a huge concern for both parents and professionals.
One of my former clients who I consulted with when he was 2 years of age was severely impacted with autism. When he was 6, on a summer day in June, he wandered from his house and drowned in the neighbor’s pool. It’s was a devastating accident but wandering and/or drowning are major causes of death in children and adults with autism. It’s a horrible thing. Lucas has wandered to the point where we’ve had to call the police too when he was young so it’s an issue that I’ve struggled with for almost 2 decades both personally and professionally.
For Lucas, when he was little, he had a med alert bracelet. Now, he carries a wallet around and has a non-driver’s ID with him all the time. He also has an iPod with the Find My iPhone app which fuctions like a GPS on him at all times, and he’s never alone in the community as he requires constant supervision.
Lucas can’t go outside or take a walk alone because we can’t teach him to understand all the abstract concepts regarding safety. Fortunately Lucas doesn’t wander anymore so we don’t have to worry about him leaving the house like we did when he was a child. Another issue for Lucas and many of my clients, is that it is difficult or impossible to teach them to call 911. Well we could teach Lucas to physically dial 911 but we can’t teach him how to discriminate if there is danger or an emergency.
It’s important we look at language comprehension ability and not a person’s chronological age when we are considering what to teach in terms of safety. If a child, teen, or adult with autism has language abilities of a 2 or 3-year-old child, they are probably not going to understand many of the abstract concepts surrounding safety.
Without supervision, they may be doing dangerous things like going in the middle of the street or jumping in a pool even though they don’t know how to swim because they have no idea about safety.
It may be difficult to provide the amount of supervision a child at this level needs to keep him safe. You may need to have bolts on the doors, or door knob safety handles, he may need to have a 1-to-1 aide at school, if there is any chance of him wandering or eloping out of the school building.
Some things you can do today to increase the safety of your child or clients:
1) Consider language comprehension ability and developmental age (not chronological age) when determining how much supervision a child or adult requires at home, school, and in the community to keep him or her safe. Use this to also determine what and how to teach safety skills.
2) Teach your child to swim without floaties. This may require 1:1 swim instruction.
3) Tell your neighbors with pools to make sure their gates are locked at all times and if you have a pool or hot tub, make sure to secure those as well.
4) In addition, secure doors, turn on chimes or put bells on doors so that if a door is opened, you will know right away.
5) Get a medical alert bracelet or necklace or look into a GPS system if your child has a serious problem with wandering.
6) Teach children and adults to be careful in parking lots and to be aware of cars when crossing streets.
7) For teens and adults who are older than 16 (who are not at the level where driving is possible) obtain a non-driver’s license identification card through the same organization where you would get a driver’s license and teach the teen or adult to carry a wallet with the ID in it.
8) For older children, teens, or adults, consider using an iPOD or iPhone and the “Find My iPhone App” to track location if wandering occurs.