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Autism Safety Guide: Keeping Your Child Safe

Did you know that a study by the American Journal of Public Health revealed that individuals with autism are at a significantly heightened risk of death caused by an injury?

All parents worry about their children’s safety, but that concern is much more pronounced for parents of children with autism. Rightfully so, it is much more difficult to keep kids with autism safe due to their increased vulnerability and likelihood to inadvertently place themselves in danger. Thankfully, there’s no need to live in fear – there are steps that parents and caregivers can take to avoid risks and address safety issues to protect their children.

Why Is Safety an Issue for Children With Autism?

Children with autism, even those who are higher functioning, are susceptible to increased safety risks. Depending on your child’s age, functional level, personality, and behaviors, they may have a higher likelihood to suffer from accidents. This safety issue is compounded by the fact that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) commonly have no fear of dangers and/or an insensitivity to pain.

Many kids with autism also have a tendency to wander or run away from home or school. Due to difficulties with social interactions, kids with ASDs may also be more vulnerable to perceived negative experiences while engaging with police or other first responders. Lights and sirens on official vehicles might trigger negative behaviors due to sensory overload. If they’ve wandered, fear and increased anxiety could make your child less cooperative or willing to follow instructions from officials trying to help them.

Vulnerability to bullying or abuse is also a concern for children with ASDs. Abusers, or bullies, tend to select victims who are socially isolated, exhibit “strange” behaviors, or appear to be defenseless.

Tips to Create a Safety Plan

  • To prevent your child from wandering from home, locks are an important first step. Try to think like your child when installing the locks, making sure they cannot reach or operate the lock, and keep all keys hidden.
  • Communicate with your child’s school to find out what procedures they have in place to prevent wandering. Try to determine what events might cause them to elope (like loud noises, or other sensory triggers), then try to reduce those occurrences in the classroom.
  • Traffic presents a major issue if your child wanders. Routinely practice traffic safety rules with your child during public outings to help them understand how to behave carefully near roads and vehicles.
  • Communicate with local first responders if your child wanders – provide them with a picture and a list of potential behaviors. Have your child wear some type of identification to help the police identify them once they are located.
  • In your home, try to select furniture that discourages climbing. If you have items that are climbable, secure the furniture to the wall to prevent tipping accidents. If you have a pool, install a safety fence and a perimeter alarm.
  • Locks also play an important role in securing dangerous chemicals in your home. Ensure that all toxic substances are locked away from your child’s reach. Turn down the temperature of your home’s hot water heater to reduce the likelihood of burns.
  • Children with ASDs may not be able to clearly communicate negative bullying experiences. Share your concerns with your child’s teacher and principal so they can help ensure that your child is not victimized by their classmates. The school should have an established policy for bullying.

While it’s true that children with autism are subject to an increased safety risk, it doesn’t mean that parents and caregivers are powerless to protect them. You are your child’s best safety advocate, and with the right preparations, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of serious injury.

Providence Center is a nonprofit organization that services the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Anne Arundel County. Please visit our website to learn how you can help our community.

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