According to a study carried out by Danish Scientists in 2008, the mortality rate among people on the autism spectrum is nearly double that for the regular public.
It is only normal to expect safety to top the list of priorities for the average family. However, when people on the autism spectrum enter the picture safety takes on even more heightened importance. Because of the nature of their condition, autistic people require a more than average dose of care and observation. As a care giver, rather than staying up all night worrying about the safety of your child or your charge, you can go beyond leaving everything at the feet of Lady Luck by taking proactive steps to not only keep autistic individuals safe, but also to make sure that they are prepared for any emergency or situation that may crop up.
Nothing can be left to chance-there is a need for a strong proactive plan in place. And to help you set about creating this plan we have compiled a list of tips below. We hope that by going through them you will be well underway to ensuring that individuals in your care who are on the autism spectrum stay out of harm’s way.
Make Safety a Priority
This is important. If you are not already actively thinking of ways to make your environment safer or ways to prepare your autistic charge more prepared for eventualities then now is the time to reorganise your priorities. Identify what the individual needs to be aware of if they are going to be safe. Then go about acquiring the resources and people that you need to help him or her. To identify and address possible dangerous instances you can ask yourself the question: When am I on high alert concerning this person? Or perhaps: When do I have to actively prevent them from hurting themselves? Are they attracted to water-against better judgement? Do they tend to run across roads carelessly if no one were there to stop them? When you have identified situations that double your heart rate, you would have also identified what the individual needs to learn.
At this point it is important to note that there is a difference between preventing something dangerous from happening to an individual and teaching an individual safe behaviour. The latter is many times better than the former. For example, teaching someone to cross the street safely is on a different level to simply preventing them from running into the street. So what are the skills you think your child, or teen, or adult needs to learn?
A few examples of skills that are teachable and need to be prioritised are:
- Learning to swim
- Learning to recognise personal space and boundaries
- Responding to “Stop” and “Go”
- Taking “No” for an answer
- Understanding the meaning of and difference between “Mine” and “Not Mine”
- Asking for help
Autistic individuals learn through explicit instructions and practice. Enlist the help of someone who can help if you have to. You can start immediately; the earlier the better, but it’s never too late. Safety skills, once learned, will last a life time.
If you happen to be a parent or a teacher, you can start by placing a lot of focus and emphasis on the subject of safety in the person’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Teaching safety skills can also be made part and parcel of the plan in place to help individuals on the autism spectrum transition from youth to safe adulthood. In this way, time, energy and resources are diverted to adequately teaching safety skills both at home and in the community.
Spread Your Safety Net Wide
You don’t have to act alone in ensuring the safety of your loved one. Tell your neighbours about the individual’s special needs, especially if there is a danger of wandering. Ask them for help in keeping watch. You could tell them to contact you right away if they ever see your person-child or adult-wandering or moving about unsupervised. There are a few innovations available now like number pad locks that help to ensure extra safety.
Pinpoint Places of Interest
Identify points of interest for the individual. Which way does he or she like taking when they leave the house, work, or school? Keep this information at hand in case of an emergency. The police arrive in the case of an emergency; they often ask “Which way does the person usually go when they leave here? It is better to have relevant answers ready instead of having to think them up in your distraught state. If the individual is one who is drawn to water, a Google map showing all natural and manmade bodies including drains will be in order.
Identification bracelets are always a good idea. Preferably it should be one that explains the individual’s special needs status. This is especially important for those on the autism spectrum who cannot express themselves verbally. There are many options for providing adequate identification: some autistic individuals can be taught to use self-disclosure cards to reveal themselves; others might benefit from high-tech tracking devices. If your child or adult is averse to old-school medical alert jewellery, there are many other fun styles and designs available which can easily be gotten online or from the neighbourhood pharmacy.
Organize Relevant Information
Photographs, description, special needs, medication list and so on-these should all be at hand for handing out to first responders in the case of any emergency. Police and first responders would benefit greatly from knowing how to communicate and interact with the individual they are trying to help. Having this information at hand saves time which is always of the essence during an emergency.
Teach Teens and Adults to Interact Safely with the Police
This is especially important if the person wants to drive or live a more independent life. Statistics show that people on the autism spectrum are more likely to have an encounter with the law than others not struggling with autism. It is important that they learn the necessary skills needed to interact safely with the police. Because of their condition it is important that they see things for themselves and practise over and over. Video modelling and sketches can be a great tool in this regard.
Do you know any other safety tips for those on the autism spectrum? Share with us below!