In the previous post (hyperlink to Springbrook Blog Post 1 after its posted), we discussed the importance of advanced planning when it comes to helping family members with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) successful cope with potentially dangerous situations. Planning in advance, communicating those plans with neighbors and first responders, and even practicing for emergency situations, such as a lost or wandering child with ASD, can all be true lifesavers for your family.
While preparation is crucial, the best plans can be useless if not communicated effectively in the midst of a crisis, especially for the nonverbal or minimally verbal child.
Remember the Three C’s of Communication in an Emergency
In the event that you find your family facing a natural disaster or an emergency of any type, keep these 3 C’s in mind as you work to ensure the safety of family members on the spectrum:
Individuals with autism can be especially sensitive to emotional stress and changes in their physical environment. Effective navigation of stressful scenarios requires parents and caregivers to approach tense situations with a sense of calm in order to reassure their children. Rehearse how you would respond to potential crises. Your demeanor and level-headed approach in a difficult situation will set the tone, giving children and adults on the spectrum a positive example to model.
Whether it’s sharing the details of a home safety plan or guiding someone through an evacuation plan, communicating with clarity rarely happens without advanced preparation. As you consider how to speak with adults and children with autism during the intensity of an emergency situation, it’s important to not overwhelm them with intricate details. Too much information can distract from the critical points of your emergency plan. Take time to identify the most essential points on your plan, and then learn how to deliver those details in the manner your loved one understands best. Just like other breaks in routine that can be stressful for kids on the spectrum, such as travel planning, summer vacation, or the holiday rush, using social stories (pictures explaining a process) and rehearsing the events that could happen in an emergency situation will help everyone remain clear-headed during the actual event.
For autistic children, predictable routines are the cornerstone of their comfort zone. Disasters and emergencies are considerable interruptions to the expected patterns of daily life. This deviation from the norm can place ASD individuals on edge, so it falls on the caregivers to restore some consistency. As you give instructions, be careful not to rattle off a random string of directives that could be confusing. Instead, focus attention on the most critical steps of the safety plan. (Tip: Including a visual schedule with your emergency plan can be particularly helpful.) By calmly repeating these steps, you can help establish a calming sense of routine in the middle of swirling uncertainty.
We use many different treatments and therapies that can help children with autism become more independent and be prepared for what’s next in life, whether that’s responding to an emergency or simply a processing a full holiday schedule or integrating into a more traditional school setting. Contact us to learn more about the programs and therapies we offer for kids on the spectrum.