Posted on August 31, 2011
by Dr. Judy HorrocksMost police and fire department personnel have heard of autism, but really know very little about the disability. Introducing your child to the local personnel may be very helpful. Children with autism have difficulty with generalization of concepts that they are taught or told. They may recognize a police uniform or car but not really understand the meaning of the symbols. If the local police or fire department are aware of your child, that will be beneficial in any emergency.
Emergencies are stressful and we know that our children behave erratically in stressful situations. How can we make the situation less stressful?
Communication is the key in any emergency. Your child needs to understand and follow instructions. What is the best form for your child to understand language? Often we use pictures or written instructions and keep meaning very literal. Visuals allow more processing time then quick verbal statements. Have some picture communication symbols ready to use in emergency. Gestures and pointing are typically not very effective for this population. Children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder often do not understand body language or figurative language.
If your child begins repeating words or phrases you have just said, they may be trying to process the information. If they are repeating a phrase from a movie or video, this may just let you know your child is anxious. Do not assume all verbal language is communication, repeating a phrase is typically not meant as communication to you. Allow them time to process any verbal information your have provided before adding additional comments. If you feel you have to repeat yourself, then simplify the statement.
Practice simple commands. It is easier to teach “sit down” then “stop.” Children may stop at the command, but for how long? Waiting for the next instruction is not likely to happen! If a child sits down, you will have more time to get to them and/or give the next command. Practice: sit down, come with me, hold my hand, stand up, walk, etc. Be sure to get your child attention before giving the command. Then wait for understanding before repeating, give adequate processing time for your child to respond.
Create routines. Children on the autism spectrum tend to like routines and find routines comfortable and calming. Practicing some simple routines regarding leaving your house and staying near the curb to wait for help would be beneficial in an actual emergency. If you find yourself in an actual emergency, try to use commands that follow familiar routines to keep your child calm.
Be aware of sensory issues. Children with autism may have difficulty with lights (visual defensiveness) noise (auditory defensiveness) or touch ( tactile defensiveness). Do not interpret hands in their ears or lack of eye contact as a sign of disrespect. If your child is lost, ask the police to avoid use of the siren or flashing lights when searching for your child; this may actually cause physical discomfort. Let them know that your child may not come to them if called, provide them with some simple commands that your child would understand.
Since their sensory systems are impaired and communication difficult, your child may not recognize injury. People with autism may not ask for help or show any indications of pain and may be fearful of your touch. Avoid touching the child, if necessary use firm grip. Repetitive behavior may not need to be stopped unless it is self injurious or at risk of injury to others.
Be aware that change produces anxiety and a high level of anxiety impairs thinking and increases sensitivity. Certain times of the year have more change, such as breaks from educational facilities, changes in daylight savings time, etc. These times of year are more likely to create emergency situations. Children may require closer supervision during these times of year.This entry was posted in About Autism by Judy. Bookmark the permalink.