Autism and Safety

I was talking with a good friend today who has a daughter who is autistic. She told me that the one thing she wishes parents could know when they receive the diagnosis of autism is that it isn’t the end of the world and that autistic children can be taught. They may have moments and things that are much more difficult for them to learn, but they can be taught. I completely agree.

A fun thing that a friend of hers did was create business cards that she handed out during meltdowns or other public situations. The cards said “My daughter is autistic, you are witnessing and autism moment”. This usually satiated any onlookers and resulted in less commentary. Next time a company offers free business cards I am going to have some made. That way our store trips will be less stressful.

When my son was first diagnosed, I wanted to proclaim to the world that he had autism and ADHD. I was so relieved that it wasn’t my parenting, or something I did, or didn’t do. There was a reason for his bizarre behavior, and I had no part in it. I cringe though when I hear parents using autism as an excuse. It isn’t an excuse. All children can be taught, and it is important that these children learn to be safe and learn manners and other skills.

Even children who are very high on the spectrum need to be taught safety. Many autistic kids are runners, and will wander off. Others, like mine, have ADHD and forget that they need to stay with you, or are easily distracted, and will wander into roads or other dangerous situations without thinking.

I don’t want to scare my son, but we also don’t hide him from the world and global events. I was at the doctor’s office when the Boston Marathon bombings were first reported. It was sad and scary for me as an adult. As I talked to family and friends, and read countless articles on how to help children with autism deal with such situations I picked up a few ideas.

The first and most important came from my Father. He read somewhere that people who plan ahead for disasters tend to survive, while those that don’t have a plan are more likely to suffer. So my first tip is have a plan. Right the plans down and rehearse them with your children. They will know what to do and so will you. I need to teach my son how to call me on my cell phone in case of an emergency. He already knows where to go in case of a fire, and the school has a plan for almost every scenario.

The second bit of advice and advice that I got from many professionals, including my sons’ therapist were to briefly describe what happened and talk about what you would do if faced with a similar situation, and then shield them from the repeated reports and constant discussion. One professional described the constant replay as having the disaster happen all over again for autistic children since many have a distorted sense of time. When we told my son, he asked if any children were hurt and was happy that there weren’t, at least to my knowledge. The rest he kind of just brushed off and moved on. He has seen no visuals, but will hear talk at school and other places, so I want him to be aware, and hopefully not afraid. We always talk about how he can come to us if he is scared or something is bothering him. Oddly he is more concerned about events that directly affect him, or kids like him.

We have a plan, and we know how to address scary world events with our son. We are preparing him to deal with different situations as we teach him life skills, and we ease any fears he has by developing a plan of action that we will take if something happens. So far that has worked wonders for our family. We would love to hear how you prepare your kids for potentially scary or dangerous situations, and how you address their fears and concerns.

Photo: calignosus/Flickr