Tips for protecting your child at home
Parents want to create a home that is a nurturing, safe environment for their children—and every parent’s worst nightmare is a preventable home accident or other emergency that puts their child in danger. Home safety for children with autism is even more important, and more difficult, as these children have different abilities and developmental needs than neurotypical children.
As a parent of a kid on the autism spectrum, you already know that safety can be a challenge. You can’t roll your kid up in bubble wrap or stand right next to your child 24/7, so any home safety efforts you make will have to be some combination of preventative steps that you take to protect your child, and ways that you teach your child to learn safety and self-protection.
Things You Can Do to Promote Home Safety
Neurotypical children may only need safety precautions, such as child gates, locks, and safety plugs, for the first few years of childhood. Children with autism, on the other hand, often face developmental delays and may need these safety modifications for much longer. Many parents hesitate at the idea of using locks and alarms for their adolescent or teen child, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Of course, every child with autism is different, so think through your child’s unique needs and behaviors when creating a safety plan for your home. You should also think about where your child spends the most time and prioritize those areas along with the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Here are a few common safety modifications that many parents of children with autism have found helpful:
Organize and Label Everything
One of the best ways to ensure safety for your child is to use clear, large labels with pictures on everyday items, especially functional items like cabinets and furniture. Children with ASD who are in a well-labelled, highly-structured environment are less likely to have meltdowns or other behavioral problems. One reason for this is that they have visual cues to understand what the items in their environment are meant for, helping them feel more confident. Keep items that your child uses daily, like toys, school supplies, or toiletries, in large, clear bins with pictures on them so your child can easily see what’s inside. Other methods that you may use to help educate your child with ASD and establish a routine, like social stories that are homemade picture books designed to describe something such as a how to make a bed or a trip to the dentist to reduce anxiety, visual schedules which are schedules with pictures for activity, and signs and charts, are all also good safety measures.
Use Locks and Alarms Where Needed
One primary safety concern for kids with autism is “wandering” or “eloping” by leaving the home without supervision. Many children on the spectrum like to be outdoors and like to wander off. If your child has the tendency to wander, make sure that you install locks and/or alarms on all exterior doors and windows. For door locks, be sure to choose something simple and easy to open, like a slide bolt, so that you have quick access in case of a fire or other emergency. For children who wander at night, remember to set the alarms on your doors and check to see if your community has any programs like Take Me Home or Smart911 available which allow you to submit photos and other information that assist emergency responders to quickly help when needed. Secure all windows with locks and use plexiglass or boards on the bedroom windows if your child bangs on windows to prevent injury. Finally, use safety locks on bathroom cabinets and under the sink cabinets that contain pills or household cleaners.
Stow Away All Hazardous Materials and Safety-Proof Appliances
Children with Autism often have a deeply-rooted curiosity about how things work, or how things are put together, which can present some dangers if they try to disassemble an electrical appliance or use scissors or knives. Keep all sharp objects locked away out of site when you are not there to supervise your child. Invest in a few good pairs of safety scissors if your child likes to practice cutting—and bundle all wires, use plastic knob covers on faucets and the stove, and cover all electrical outlets.
Be Proactive About Identification
Some children with autism can be taught to carry a wallet with ID, or to wear an ID bracelet, but most don’t like jewelry or bulky items in their pockets. The simplest solution is to print labels with your child’s name, your name, your phone number and your address onto iron transfer paper and then iron these labels into your child’s clothing. For children who are likely to elope, some parents opt to use personal tracking devices or service dogs to keep their kids safe.
Protect the Other Members of Your Family
Many kids on the autism spectrum have outbursts or tantrums, and the chance that you, your spouse, or another one of your children may get injured is high. Think through your child’s habits and behaviors and decide if there’s any way to reduce the chance of injury. For example, many children with autism have trouble at mealtime and may try to throw utensils or throw and sweep dishes off the table. Consider using rubber cups, plates, and bowls to prevent shattering. You can also secure your child’s place setting. Use velcro on the dishes and a nylon string tied to the chair for the fork. This way, if your child tries to throw the fork across the table, it won’t hit anyone unintentionally.
Teaching Your Child Safety Skills
Developing any new independent living skills will help your child become more safe and protected—both in your home and out in the world. That’s why we always recommend that parents enroll children on the autism spectrum in a good occupational therapy program to build life skills as well as confidence. In addition, here are a few ways you can teach your child to remain safe at home.
Teach Your Child All Personal Information
As we’ve already mentioned, your child should carry identification at all times, even if you write it on the inside of all clothing—but it’s also a good idea to work with your child to memorize this information. Teach your child his or her full name, your full name, your full home address, and your phone number. Schedule 5-10 minutes a day, or at least a couple times each week, to review this information together.
Teach Your Child How To Use a Phone
Some kids with autism have trouble with fine motor skills, so this may take some effort. Start small and build up to being able to dial your full phone number. You should also teach your child how to dial 911.
Practice Fire Safety
Keep all matches and lighters put away or locked up, and also practice your household fire plan with your child. Use social stories, stickers, and other visual cues to help your child know how to get to safety quickly. Children with autism have a difficult time understanding what fire is and why it’s dangerous—but they can learn how to behave around fire and memorize and implement a safety plan.
Take Your Child to Swimming Lessons
Children with autism have a natural affinity for water, and very little fear of it, which is why we use aquatic therapy at Springbrook. This love of water also makes it especially important to ensure that your child knows how to swim. The local YMCA will often provide low-cost swimming lessons for children. If there are no good swimming lessons in your area, or if your child isn’t socially developed enough to benefit from group lessons, teach the swimming lessons yourself!
The Springbrook Autism Program offers therapies, treatments, and behavioral interventions to help children with autism thrive. Contact us online or call our facility at 864.834.8013 for a private consultation.