By Erica Kearney, M.A., BCBA, LABA
The warmer weather and longer days of summer provide more opportunities for family fun! It’s a great time to relax and enjoy yourself. However, it is not a time to relax your standards of safety – especially if you have a child with special needs and/or limited safety awareness skills.
Below are a few tips to consider to ensure your child’s safety during the summer months.
Practice Safety Skills
Teach your child safety skills at a young age and practice them often. Hold her (or his) hand/arm in crowded environments or near busy roadways. Teach her to stop or come to you when you ask or call her name.
Some children with limited communication may be unable to respond when caregivers and first responders call their name during emergency situations. If this is the case, it is important that teachers and parents teach these children an alternative way of communicating such as responding verbally to a certain phrase with increased volume. For example, when a parent or a teacher yells, “hip hip,” and the child is taught to respond by saying, “hooray” in a loud voice. It is important not to use phrases that the child will commonly hear. It should be a phrase that is unique to the child and family.
Talk to Neighbors
It doesn’t hurt to educate your neighbors about your child’s disorder so they can assist in times of need. For example, if a neighbor sees your child walking down the street alone and knows that she needs to be closely supervised, that neighbor is less likely to drive by and more likely to call you and stop and help your child.
Some children with autism may be an “elopement” risk, meaning they are likely to bolt from the house or yard if something especially interesting catches their attention. If your child has limited communication skills and wouldn’t be able to find her way home or tell someone where her home is, it may be beneficial to have her wear a GPS tracker or Radio Frequency (RF) device in her pocket, on a belt, or as a bracelet. This way, if she ever gets lost, her location can be determined. In addition to a tracking device, your child should also wear a medical ID bracelet, necklace, or tag so when she is found, her health/condition information is readily available.
House and Pool Alarms
Even if you have strong locks on your doors and windows, they will probably be open more often during the summer months. It is a good idea, therefore, to install alarms that will alert you when windows are opened past a certain height. Just keep in mind that it’s easy to become desensitized to these alarms because of the frequency of doors opening and closing in the summer months. Of course you can turn alarms on and off according to the level of supervision your child is receiving. For example, if you know you need to bathe one of your other children and leave your other child unattended for a brief period of time, it may be a good time to turn the alarm on. And, if you have a pool, you may want to consider investing in a pool alarm system.
Teach Your Child to Swim
Take adaptive swim classes with your child. Many YMCAs and local parks and recreation centers offer these classes. If your child has difficulty learning conventional swimming strokes, teach her drownproofing, a water survival technique that will help her stay afloat until help arrives.
Although it can be challenging at times, remaining vigilant about safety this summer will make it a happier and healthier season for your entire family. If you have additional tips you have found helpful in keeping your loved one safe, please share them with others – and with us! We would be happy to include them in a future column.
Erica Kearney M.A., BCBA, LABA, is the Executive Director of the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield, Mass. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
May Institute is an award-winning nonprofit organization with 65 years of experience in serving children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. May Institute operates four schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, Mass. For more information, call 800-778-7601.