The story of Nadia Bloom’s disappearance and rescue in Florida has made every parent with an autistic child experience something between nervousness and mortal fear. Any one of us knows our child could be in that story.
While our J-Man has not been what you’d call a ‘flight risk’ yet, that could easily change. Our biggest fear right now is that something will happen – like we’re in a car accident – and because he’s barely verbal, he will have no way to communicate with emergency personnel nor understand what they are telling him. Just about any parent with an autistic child has nightmares where our child is in danger and we are powerless to help them.
But what we can do right now is try to prepare as best we can to reduce the chances of harm coming to our children. We might not be able to predict every possible scenario, but we can act to greatly lower the chances of our children ending up in dangerous or life-threatening situations where we cannot help them. I’m sure we all feel a lot of anxiety even thinking about this, but as natural as that is, we can’t let our emotions get in the way of our children’s safety.
I don’t know the first thing about what Nadia’s family did with regard to preparing for possible emergency situations. So this is no commentary on them at all. The ideas below include those that came out of a session we had at school with a local police officer about safety and autistic children, other suggestions I’ve read about, or things we’ve tried ourselves.
[Standard disclaimery stuff – I’m not an expert in this at all. I’m compiling and relaying ideas that I’ve either learned from others or thought about myself, but whether they are appropriate for your family is up to you to decide. You have to set up a system that best fits your family and that offers you the most safety and security. When in doubt, ask your local autism support organizations, police department, emergency responders, teachers, and of course, other parents.]
Know the signs
Your best defense against something terrible happening is to notice patterns in your child’s behavior that may indicate that they are about to try to escape or otherwise take off in a way that could put them in serious danger, such as running off a sidewalk into a street.
This can be very difficult as often we aren’t sure what is going to bring this about in them or what to do to head it off. Try to keep notes about what’s going on each time your child tries to get away from you. Look for patterns. This is largely about data collection, pattern recognition, and using your parental instincts. If signs indicate that they may be getting to where they feel the need to escape, that’s when you act to preempt it as best you can.
Noticing any strong interests, especially ones that get more intense, may help in knowing when and where they may wander off to fulfill those interests.
No matter what, get a medical alert bracelet
Everyone who has experience with autistic children in potentially dangerous situations has told me the same thing – get a medical alert bracelet. We have put this off too long in our house because we thought he’d never wear it without an all-out battle. I know we’re not the only ones to have this excuse. I’ve talked to a few people in recent weeks who thought the same thing, got the bracelet anyway, and after some initial resistance, it’s now an accepted part of their daily life. The good ones are very sturdy and nearly impossible to take off if fitted correctly.
The officer who met with us at school said that if you do anything at all, get a medical alert bracelet first. She recommended having the child’s name, date of birth, phone number(s), and their diagnosis (or diagnoses) printed on the bracelet. She has an autistic son herself, and she said that while it’s very hard at first to get your child used to it, endure it and deal with it as best you can, but get it on them. It saves lives.
Bracelets are available at a multitude of places online in every material and style you can think of. Some also provide the service for an additional fee – like MedicAlert – of having a number an emergency responder can call to get your child’s medical information, etc. Make sure the place is reputable before you buy anything.