Every child throws caution to the wind, discovering her world. She explores, touches, tastes and climbs, using her inquisitive nature in ways that have worried parents for centuries. Parents of children with special needs know a deeper worry. Their children tend to have more accidents. Like other parents, they can’t prevent every tumble, accident or scraped knee, but with some foresight and preplanning, there are ways to minimize the opportunities for negative repercussions and even tragedy.
Secure the Doors.
Noisy door chimes on windows and doors will alert you when something is open, says Vicki Couch, a Pacific Beach mother of a 12-year-old child with special needs. Install two-sided keyed deadbolts as another way to prevent your child from slipping away unnoticed. Print large lettered STOP signs and adhere them to all doors, windows and any other exits.
Sound the Alarm.
For a child who isn’t able to rely on the warning sound of a fire alarm, install a vibrating or flashing fire alarm and smoke alarm on each level of your home.
Have an Exit Strategy.
Practice your fire alarm drill regularly with the entire family so everyone is familiar with the routine. Mark exits with visual cues your child understands. Notify your local fire department of your child’s special needs, eliminating the need for additional explanation should a crisis or emergency occur.
Enroll in Take Me Home.
Take Me Home is a regional registry for individuals with special needs that enables first responders to access critical information about the immediate needs of a person with special conditions or disorders. Originally the vision of Brian Herritt, a safety trainer with Autism Risk and Safety Management, this database minimizes law enforcement response time and maximizes search efforts.
Get to Know Your Neighbors.
Visit with your neighbors, introduce your child and leave behind a photo. “Tell your neighbors about your child’s special needs,” Herritt says, encouraging parents to be proactive. “They can be an additional set of eyes and ears should your child wander.”
Be Water Savvy.
Children with autism tend to be attracted to the water, so it’s important for a child to know how to swim. Be aware that teaching a child to swim does not guarantee water safety. Find local companies offering special needs swimming instruction in the Special Needs Resource Foundation of San Diego resource list. Fence your pool. If your neighbors own a pool, alert them to your child’s tendency to wander, and notify them of the safety precautions you have taken. Don’t leave any toys or other attractive items in the pool when it is not in use.
Claire Yezbak Fadden is an award-winning freelance writer and mother of three sons. Follow her on Twitter @claireflaire.