April is National Autism Awareness Month! In recognition of people with autism and their families, this month, Enabling Devices’ weekly blog posts will focus on topics of interest to the autism community.
People with autism commonly experience behavioral, social and sensory challenges that may place them at increased risk of injury. In fact, the statistics are heart-breaking. A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that in the United States, the life expectancy of individuals with autism spectrum disorders is only 36 years old — half the life expectancy of an individual in the general population.” Additionally, the study found that “those with ASD are 40 times more likely to die from various injuries.” The most common causes of death in people with autism are “suffocation, asphyxiation, and drowning.”
Fortunately, there are steps families and caregivers can take to prevent such tragedies. Here’s what safety experts recommend:
1. Protect wanderers
It is common for some individuals with autism to wander off, putting them at risk for a variety of dangerous situations. Consider putting alarms on the doors leading to the outside of your home so you are alerted if your child leaves without your knowledge. Make sure your child always carries identification in case she becomes lost. You can also purchase a GPS tracking device that monitors her whereabouts. There are many types of GPS devices. Here are some of the options.
2. Safety-proof your home
Accidents can happen even in the relative safety of your home. According to Safety.com, children with autism may require the same types of safety precautions commonly taken with much younger children who are typically developing. For example, families should make sure furniture is secured to the walls with brackets or safety straps to prevent heavy furniture from toppling over and causing injuries. In addition, parents should keep cleaning products and freezers locked so that nothing dangerous can be ingested.
3. Maintain strict pool safety
Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death among children with autism. If you have a swimming pool, be sure it is fenced, that gates are securely locked and that your child is not able to reach and/or open gates leading to the pool. Teaching children to swim and to observe pool safety rules at an early age will also help to prevent accidents. Regardless of your child’s swimming ability, never leave a child unsupervised in a swimming pool, even for a second.
4. Protect against burns
As Safety.com notes, “sometimes children with autism struggle with sensory challenges, so they may be more at risk for getting burned by hot water simply because they cannot feel hot and cold.” Adds Safety.com: turning down the temperature of your home water heater, putting warning stickers on faucets, and teaching your child how to adjust water temperature when using faucets are all ways to prevent injuries caused by hot water burns.
5. Prevent victimization
Children with autism are at increased risk for bullying, abduction and physical and sexual abuse. One way to teach them to avoid being victimized is with social stories and role play. In collaboration with Autism Speaks, TwigTale has created teaching stories on a variety of safety topics for children on the spectrum including “Police Officer, My Friend,” “Learning to Stand Tall and Be Brave,” and “I’m the Boss of My Body.” Read and discuss them with your child frequently.
6. Have a safety plan
Though we can’t prepare for every eventuality, there’s a great deal that can be done to prevent accidents before they happen. On its website, Autism Speaks offers a comprehensive package of printable resources including a Safety & Wandering Checklist; Family Wandering Emergency Plan; Autism Alert Elopement Form; and Neighbor Alert Letter.
7. Make others aware of the safety plan
We’ve all heard the sayings “It takes a village to raise a child.” This is especially true when it comes to children with special needs who need additional help and supervision. Autism Speaks stresses the fact that your family safety plan “should include key participants – school personnel, daycare providers, neighbors, caretakers, and extended family; anyone involved in your network that has daily contact with the person at risk.”