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Autism Safety: Keeping You Autistic Child Safe at Home & In The Community

Being the parent or guardian of a child with autism can be an exceptionally rewarding experience, but it can also be highly challenging. It doesn’t make you a bad person to admit that you feel occasionally overwhelmed, and for assistance is the best thing you can do for you and your child.

A Illustration of autism children

Knowing the best way to care for your child can be daunting. It’s hard to strike a balance between trusting your instincts and taking advice from the plethora of material that’s searching out there, and even then, how do you know what advice you can trust? Which safety methods would work best for your child? All children who have autism are unique individuals with their own personalities, so how can you know what safety advice will work for them?

All of the information provided in this article is researched and resourced from a variety of trusted organizations and charities that specialize in autism, aiming to provide you with everything you need to know about keeping your child safe. Autism safety doesn’t have to be complicated, and though it can be challenging, there are many ways to keep both child and guardian happy.

Read on to find solutions and methods for ensuring the safety of children with autism in your care.

Safety Concerns for Children with Autism

Young people with autism undoubtedly require more attention than other children, and knowing how to minimize any potential safety threats surrounding their condition is paramount. Precautions can vary from taking extra steps within the home and outside of it, or sometimes both. Ensuring your child’s safety shouldn’t feel monumental or excessively stressful, and there are many little things you can do every day to make things easier for everyone.

 

Here’s our guide on how to handle some of the most prominent autism safety issues that may affect your child.

1. Understanding Wandering Prevention Methods

Wandering off in public is a common habit for many children, and it never stops being a terrifying experience for parents. One moment you’re looking at the shelves in a store with your child right by your side, then the next thing you know, they’ve vanished. Something caught their eye, and they couldn’t resist their childlike curiosity. If this happens, try not to feel guilty. Children are naturally inquisitive. For parents of autistic children, however, this occurrence is all too common and arguably more concerning.

In the Pediatrics journal in 2012, a study sought to examine how frequently children with autism wandered off from their caregivers. Of the 1,218 autistic children who partook in the study, it was found that almost half had wandered off from home, school, or otherwise designated safe area past the age of four. Many of these cases were considered high-risk due to the length of time the child was missing, a risk of drowning, or a risk of oncoming traffic.

These are all real causes for safety concern and highlight the unique dangers that someone with autism may find themselves in, through no fault of their own or their parents’. Luckily, there are a variety of tactics you can employ to minimize the likelihood of wandering and safety threats. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

Ensure your child is well-rested:

Lack of sleep in any child can cause deep distress, but for a child on the autistic spectrum, it's often much worse. Ensuring they get a good night's sleep can help keep their mind focused, so they aren't tempted to drift. This goes for you as well: you're far more vigilant when you've slept well, and you need to keep your energy up. It's easy to forget about yourself when caring for an autistic child, but it's just as vital for you to stay healthy too.

Communication and behavior strategies:

Creating and encouraging healthy coping mechanisms in your child is fundamental in helping them navigate countless scenarios, but can also help with wandering. Many children with autism wander not just out of curiosity but due to becoming overwhelmed and needing to escape. Coping safety mechanisms can help them deal with stressful situations without resorting to leaving your side. For instance, tell them to tug on your sleeve if they want to leave rather than run away.

Explain plans before leaving:

Autism causes many people to need plans laid out for them. Anything unexpected is highly distressing, and the more distressed they become, the more likely they are to wander. Planned routes may help your child find their way back to you if they do get lost. Explain where you're going and what you're going to do before leaving home, to provide security for both of you.

Monitoring technology and identification:

Installing some form of location tracking system on your child's phone (if they own one) is an incredibly helpful tool for monitoring and ensuring the safety of young people with autism when they're out on their own. Of course, this depends on the needs of your child, as it could potentially be an unwelcome invasion of privacy - but for young people with autism, it might be necessary to keep them safe. For a less intrusive prevention technique, identification cards with your details on them can prove lifesaving in instances of wandering. 1/3 of autistic children cannot express themselves to complete strangers, particularly if they're already distressed. Providing them with identification will help them return to you without them having to go through the stress of self-identifying verbally.

There are a variety of ways to minimize the risks prevented by wandering; these are just a few. Autism manifests in different ways in different children, so certain methods will be more successful than others. Only you know your child best, so employ what you believe would have the most significant result.

A Smiley Face Doll
However, one thing above all is agreed upon: learning to swim is a vital safety skill. Drowning is the cause of death in almost 3 out of 4 cases of autistic children that wander, which is a profoundly upsetting statistic that requires attention. Swimming lessons alone may not be enough – additional lessons that prepare children for swimming in wet clothes are highly beneficial. These lessons are available from many teachers and leisure centers, and are imperative to autism safety measures. Contact your doctor or autism specialist who will be able to put you in touch with facilities like this.

2. Safety in the Community

The creation of an autism safety plan based on your child’s needs can make an extraordinary difference to their quality of life – and their safety as a whole. It’s important to know that as a parent of a child with autism, you are not alone. You are not alone in wanting the best for your child, for wanting to ensure their safety, or for wishing to create an environment that serves them best.

Make use of your family and friends, neighbors, and staff that your child is often around to create a safety plan that takes some of the responsibility off your shoulders alone. Safety plans can be made in collaboration with other members of the household (i.e. their siblings), your child’s school, and with any extracurricular classes your child attends.

Isolated Cartoon Houses Set.

To create a successful autism safety plan, you’ll need to pinpoint which areas to target relating to your child’s care needs. Start with the things they struggle with the most. Here are some key things to consider when creating your safety plan:

  • Do they wander often? As discussed above, wandering is a big problem for many children on the autistic spectrum and might be something you need to include in your safety procedures. Make sure that all adults, teachers and caregivers are aware of your child’s autism and their tendency to wander. This will mean they are extra-vigilant when around them, and also demonstrate an increased sensitivity when planning days and providing safe locations for them to visit.
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  • Has your home/school been risk assessed? Preventative measures implemented both in the home, at school, and at activity centers (or anywhere your child spends a lot of time) can assist enormously in minimizing risks, and many small changes can make a massive difference over time. Have conversations with your child’s teachers or activity center staff about their unique needs and how best they can be met. Autism is common – approximately 1 in 59 children has an autistic spectrum disorder – so if your child’s school doesn’t already have autism safety measures in place, it’s time that they did.
  • Have you contacted your local 911 services? As much as it may be a topic you want to avoid, it’s important that the emergency services in your local area are aware of your child’s needs. This way, if a caller finds your child when they’ve wandered, or if any other incident requiring urgent response occurs, the emergency services will know to contact you. This will help to minimize the stress of the situation for everyone and reduce the length of time you are separated.

3. Getting Around Independently

This section isn’t so relevant for younger children, but for older ones (such as teenagers), it’s an important consideration to make. Teenagers especially covet independence, and the desire to do things without adult supervision isn’t lost on adolescents with autism. Most want to feel independent as they grow older, just like other teenagers, and there are ways to help make this possible without putting them in harm’s way.

As tempting as it may be, it’s impossible to be by your child’s side one hundred percent of the time. It may feel like you need to be, but in actuality it’s for their greater benefit to find their own two feet in life. It will benefit you, too. Caring for someone 24/7 is exhausting, and parents deserve a break every now and then.

How a child with autism finds their independence will vary greatly based on ability and mindset, and no child should feel ashamed for not being as independent as another. It’s entirely subjective. However, encouraging what is possible for a child with autism boosts their sense of autonomy. This is vital for their self-esteem and for later success in the wider world. It also helps to improve their safety into adulthood.

To ensure your child knows how to travel safely, here are some safety behaviors you should consider encouraging:

Familiarity with your local roads: If your child comes into contact with busy streets and intersections frequently, make sure they know how they function (e.g. what lights and signals mean), and when it’s safe to cross. Since familiarity is of such importance to people with autism, it may be wise to have designated crossings to use as opposed to interchangeable routes

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No use of headphones at crossings: Autistic children tend to enjoy using headphones as it can help keep their minds focused and their stress levels down, particularly in environments where sensory overload is a risk. For people with autism, being out on busy streets can be very disconcerting. However, telling your child to remove their headphones and pay attention to traffic at crossings is an important step towards becoming more independent. Listening out for noises, such as accelerating vehicles, is key to road safety.

Look twice in both directions: Unfortunately, many drivers don’t pay close attention to road safety (and much less to pedestrians). To account for this, make sure your child knows to look twice in both directions before stepping into the road to avoid accidents.

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It isn’t just roads that can cause a safety problem for autistic children traveling independently. Depending on where you live, it can be easy for children to become confused and get lost – especially if their usual routes are interrupted for roadworks or another reason. There are a few ways to prevent distress at this point, and help them guide them back home:

The thought of any child traveling through the city alone is a scary thought for parents, and when your child has autism, it can be even more terrifying. Helping your child to remember landmarks, road names, and what to do when they’re lost can make the process a little less nerve-wracking for both you and your child.

4. Safety at Home

It’s easy to think that home is the safest place for your child, and in most ways it is. However, there are parts of any place that can be unsafe for people with special needs like autism.

The following information is intended as a guide for how you can optimize your home’s safety for an autistic child and growing into adulthood. There are many ways to improve autism safety even in the most secure homes – here are some of the most crucial.

Appropriate Furniture Placement

This may be something you haven’t considered before, but laying out rooms in a practical way can soothe a person with autism’s anxieties enormously.

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For instance, does your dining room have a clear, unobstructed table with seating? In the living room, is there plenty of room for an autistic child to sit without feeling crowded? Does the bathroom have appropriate fixtures for safety, such as hand rails and non-slip surfaces?

Reconsider your rooms with their function at the forefront of your mind, as this is how your autistic child will see them. Having assigned seating can be an addition to a routine that can enormously help an autistic child understand their world a little better.

Locking Doors and Alarm Systems

Wandering children run away most commonly in public spaces, but it is also very likely that they will wander from their own homes. Having easily lockable doors (with keys or latches out of their reach) and an alarm system can prevent your child from leaving your home unsupervised.

A Security Camera
A Smart Home Alarm System

Wandering children run away most commonly in public spaces, but it is also very likely that they will wander from their own homes. Having easily lockable doors (with keys or latches out of their reach) and an alarm system can prevent your child from leaving your home unsupervised.

Secure Eating Utensils

Children with autism often throw things when they become distressed, or sometimes entirely accidentally, and it can lead to further upset if not handled properly. Attaching cutlery to string at the table and using adhesive Velcro tabs to keep plates in place can be a great way to improve safety and minimize the likelihood of accidents during meal times.

While your home should be the safest place for your child, small and consistent changes can make a big difference. What may seem menial to some, it can make a significant and positive change for a child who has autism.

Further Sources for Autism Safety

We hope you found this autism safety guide helpful – and there’s still more information out there for you to turn to if you have unanswered questions. Being the parent or guardian of a child with autism is equal parts tough and rewarding, and there’s no shame in needing help to ensure that you all remain happy and healthy.

For further information, visit these links to groups and charities that provide key autism safety learning resources: