All parents worry about the safety of their children. But for parents of special needs kids—especially those on the autism spectrum—safety can be an everyday battle.
While the spectrum varies regarding how a child is affected, most children with autism often have difficulty interpreting social cues, which can cause issues with other children. Others may act out, flee or seemingly melt down if they become overwhelmed with sensory stimuli or if their routine is disrupted.
Every child on the spectrum is unique and special. And their needs also must be individualized—especially when safety is concerned. A child who flees risks injury and children who are in the midst of a sensory meltdown also may try to escape a situation. My son also had a habit of wandering at playgrounds, and constant vigilance was imperative for his safety.
Many children with autism have difficulty with social situations and interacting with peers. As my son grew older, he began to imitate behaviors of peers at school—believing that would help him be liked by his peers or become popular. Sometimes this led to his classmates misinterpreting his reactions. If he decided to tease another kid who he wasn’t close with or in the same group, that child became upset…feeling that it was inappropriate. In my son’s mind, he was trying to act how that child’s friends acted…he wanted to be part of the group. Thankfully, to head off some possible issues from the other child, my son’s teacher talked to the class about why my son acted the way he did. Soon, kids began helping him fit in and the girls in the class took him under their wings.
Kids with autism don’t always know how to appropriately engage in peer-to-peer relationships. Role-playing with kids helps to teach them how to properly converse and interact with peers in a safe setting. Speak with teachers about autism, because they also may be a great advocate for your son or daughter.
When children with autism get overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, they may attempt to flee the discomfort of the situation. This, obviously, can be incredibly dangerous. Parents know children best. If a child looks uncomfortable or is having obvious sensory avoidance, remove them from the situation. Find a quiet spot nearby to provide a sensory break. Some parents keep headphones with them to help alleviate noise for their children.
If your child is prone to eloping, make sure teachers or other caregivers are aware of the situation. The Autism Community also advises that parents install high locks on doors and, for children who may be unable to communicate, that parents also have a child wear a bracelet that identifies them and parent’s contact info.
Autism also may affect sleep…or the ability to fall asleep. When my son was a toddler, we had a very rigid bedtime schedule in place. It usually included lots of stories, a recitation of three books (yes, I have “Goodnight, Moon” memorized) and then I sat with him until he fell asleep. Some friends of mine have found that lavender oil helps their children calm down for the night, and parents may certainly try essential oils. A good night’s sleep is essential for wellbeing—not to mention a parent’s own health—so find a system that keeps your child clocking the right amount of shut-eye.
All kids have an angry outburst at times. Kids with autism, however, don’t always know how to properly navigate and process their feelings. Frustration or anger could lead to them hitting or biting a loved one. As Craig Kendall, author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide states, “Anger is okay, but aggression is not.” For a child on the spectrum who is lashing out in an unhealthy manner, Kendall recommends helping a child understand how to appropriately manage those feelings. He advises that parents can buy a punching bag for a child to use or even teach the child a song to sing when angry. Give them a healthy outlet to allow for more safety in the situation.
Remember that your child’s needs are unique. My experiences may differ from yours. While I can share helpful tips from experts and my own experiences, you and your child’s specialists, teachers and care team take precedence always.