After your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a rush of thoughts may invade your mind. Many questions might run through your mind: what do I do next? How do I prepare? Why has this happened? How do I cope? Though each question is valid, sometimes the uncertainty of it all can make it easy to overlook important protective measures that need to be taken. One topic that is often missed from the start is safety. Typically, children are diagnosed with autism between the ages of two and four, when it is most likely parents have already begun the early stages of childproofing their homes with items such as safety gates, child-proof locks on cabinets, and electrical outlet covers. But if your child is autistic, home safety doesn’t stop there.
For many kids on the spectrum, dangers and safety awareness are often not understood and are abstract. For example, the thought of walking down a street alone with just a diaper and bottle doesn’t cause concern for a child on a spectrum, and yet it is very alarming and frightening for the parents of that little one. Children on the spectrum may also not understand or react when parents use words such as “no” or “don’t touch that,” making it more challenging for parents to protect children from unsafe situations.
If your child is autistic, safety in the home really comes down to finding ways to prevent the child from wandering and protecting him/her from conceivably dangerous situations. There are three safety measures considered absolutely critical after a diagnosis that parents should keep in mind to help prevent harm:
1. Safeguard all doors and windows
The first and absolutely most important safeguard for kids with autism—especially if they have a tendency to wander and don’t have a full understanding of danger—is securing all doors and windows that lead outdoors. There are many various forms of door/window locks that range in both price and complexity, from deadbolts and chain locks, to door guardian flip locks, and electronic keyless door locks. Sometimes, something as simple as putting bars on windows to prevent a child from opening them or installing a sliding glass door may be what is required. The best action is to choose the security methods that best fit your family needs based on your home environment or what is appropriate according to your child’s physical and mental capabilities. This protective step is absolutely imperative to ensure your loved one cannot wander off unattended.
2. Secure furniture
The second important safety measure to consider for your child in the home is securing the furniture. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, on average, one child dies every two weeks when a TV or piece of furniture falls. Children on the spectrum may not be aware of the dangers that can occur when climbing on furniture. In addition, they may not be able to retain a verbal warning or even understand the meaning of why they cannot climb on furniture. Dressers, appliances, bookcases, and TVs can all be dangerous to a climber, and all need to be secured—preferably with safety straps, when possible. If storing some furniture is an option, it may be a good idea until the child outgrows the climbing stage.
3. Use visual aids and signs to teach
Finally, if your child is nonverbal but is a visual learner, you can use signs and other visual aids throughout the house. This will work incredibly well to help reinforce expectations and guide a child who is nonverbal. For example, putting reversible “STOP” and “GO” signs on doors is a great way to help convey your expectations; it gives your child a cue and reinforces what to do when approaching the door. If you ever have had to yell “stop” to ensure safety in any areas in your home, this will reinforce the meaning and possibly keep your child out of a potentially dangerous situation. Another example of using visuals is in the bathroom; you may want to put a picture to help your child understand “hot” water verses “cold” water. There are other visuals you can use throughout the house to help your child understand possible areas of injury, and many visual examples can be found by searching online.
Natasha Barber is the author of the children’s book series Tommy’s Lessons. She’s mom to an 11-year-old autistic son who has inspired her to become an Autism Safety Advocate Blogger. Natasha said he has given her a fair share of safety scares. One afternoon, Joshua escaped his aftercare program and ran onto a 50mph road. Traffic stopped, and thankfully he was not injured; however, that was the day Natasha said her sense of safety heightened immensely. She was suddenly propelled into hyper-safety mode to make sure this could never happen again. She signed up for safety workshops to learn more and found that so many other parents were uneducated and felt helpless on how to keep their loved ones from danger. This motivated her to help them and others with what she learned on autism safety. Natasha has since developed a website, Facebook page, and Instagram focused on keeping young autistic children safe.
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This article was featured in Issue 63 – Keeping Our Kids Safe