Creating Safety Plans for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder over the holidays (and every other day in between)

To understanding the importance of “creating safety plans for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder” fully, you need to understand Autism as a diagnosis and what the characteristics of Autism are.

Whilst persons with autism may possess all or some of the following characteristics – it is vitally important to understand that Autism is a Spectrum Disorder and that the characteristics may appear in a variety of combinations and degrees of severity.

Before we continue it is important to make mention that the characteristics of Autism is different to the diagnostic criteria of Autism.  Whilst the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder include development delays relating to a persistent deficits in social communication and social interactions across multiple contexts, restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests or activities the characteristics are far wider; and they can include but are not limited to:

  • Problems relating to “no real fear of danger” or “not being able to identify with a dangerous situation”
  • Difficulties with interacting with others, not liking or wanting to be cuddled
  • Problem following simple directions
  • Difficulty making needs and desires known by gestures, words or play
  • Difficulties dealing with change in their immediate environment
  • Poor co-ordination skills
  • Self-stimulatory behaviours such as spinning or flapping of hands
  • Repetitive play or behaviours
  • Intense fear about ordinary objects, activities or events
  • Excessive desire to play with, or in water
  • Difficulties making eye contact or totally avoiding eye contact
  • Inappropriate response or no response to sounds/noises or language
  • An apparent insensitivity to pain or “a higher pain threshold than most”
  • Insistence on sameness
  • Inappropriate laughing or giggling
  • Echoes words or phrases spoken
  • Desire to escape (elope) and run away or wander off

A few of the characteristics above can be life threatening and we therefore urge parents to put safety plans in place not just over the upcoming holiday season but every day in-between.

Here are a few tips:

  • Identify with your child’s “characteristic” and know that it is not something they can control. Understand that your child will run or wonder off – just so they can play in the sand or the water and that they do not understand the dangers involved.
  • Make sure you have “contact information” on your child at all times. Be clever and put your contact number on a place (on the child’s body) that your child can not remove when it irritates their sensory profile.
  • Secure your home, holiday home to the best of your ability. Close the pool and keep it closed with a secure pool net.  Shut the doors and windows and remove everything that your child can climb to “get out”.
  • Door contact alarm systems are a great way of notifying you when the door is opened and will even wake you up when you are sleeping (this tip is more of an everyday tip than a holiday tip); and so is the next one …
  • … Water alarm systems can be installed at your home because drowning is the cause of death for almost 3 in 4 children with autism who have wandered off alone.
  • Send a note to neighbours in the complex that you are staying in over the holiday (and the neighbours in your residential area) and explain to them that your child has Autism. Make them aware of his “characteristics” and give them your number should they see him/her alone at any time.
  • Speak to the security at the complex you will be staying at and make sure they know that you child is autistic and that they must phone you if they see him/her alone. This will also apply to the home environment, boomed off areas, security estates and residential complexes.
  • If you have a local shop or can identify with a shop that your child will be interested in “wandering off to” then give them a photo of your child and explain his/her challenges
  • Should it be possible and your child is able to wear “monitoring technology” then invest into a GPS device, medical alert tags and any other technology like “find my iPhone”. These will all be very helpful in the event of an emergency.

Most importantly – don’t be afraid to ask for help from the people around you.  The biggest safety plan that you can put in place is a community awareness safety plan.  If everybody in the holiday-hood knows and understands your child’s challenges you will be surprised at the help you are able to tap into.

Please don’t be afraid to speak to the people that are lying next to you on the beach, to the helpers at the restaurants you visit, to the security guards at the mall’s you will frequent and/or to anybody that will be able to help you keep an eye on your child.

I know that as “special needs parents” we can feel very fragile at times, that we are sick of people staring and I know how hard it is to speak about your child’s Autism to stranger BUT believe me when I tell you:  “attitudes of people tend to change drastically when they understand a situation and when they realise the child is on the spectrum!”

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Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.