Sunday, June 5, 2016

Summer Safety

Although summer doesn’t officially begin until later this month (June 20th at 7:34 P.M. Central Daylight Time exactly, as Alex would add), for many of us summer starts as soon as the school year ends. After finishing up teaching my seventh grade English classes on Friday, essentially my summer has begun, other than having to spend tomorrow morning finishing up paperwork, submitting grades, and completing end-of-the-year tasks. Since Ed completed his spring semester last month, Alex has been eagerly awaiting my school year to end because summer officially arrives when both of us are home to spend time with Alex as a family.

In anticipation of this first week of our summer, Alex has been planning what he’d like to do with this special family time that we are blessed to have because we are teachers. Usually, he makes a specific list of places to go and things to do. This year, however, he seems more spontaneous and open to suggestions about summer activities. In fact, when asked what he’d like to do this summer, he responded, “Put more miles on Daddy’s car.” He doesn’t care where we go or what we do, just so long as we go lots of places and make that odometer move forward. That flexibility shows us progress on his part.

While summer brings good weather, vacations, family gatherings, and a less structured schedule––all of which most people treasure––summer also brings greater incidences of wandering in people with autism for all of those reasons. According to statistics provided by the National Autism Association, 49% of children and adults with autism wander away from places of safety and put themselves in dangerous situations, often fleeing toward bodies of water or swimming pools, busy roads, or train tracks. Every year many of these people with autism die from drowning or being hit by cars or trains.

While we are fortunate that Alex does not seem to be one of the wanderers, we still watch him like a hawk and have put safety precautions in place, such as having locks he cannot open and having him wear a medical identification bracelet in case he would be separated from us in a crowded place. Even though he can say his name, our names, his address and phone number, as well as my parents’ names, address, and phone number, his poor articulation skills and likelihood to panic if he were lost would make understanding him difficult. Hence, we have him wear the bracelet with key identifying information that he may not be able to tell in a crisis.

Why do people with autism wander and put themselves in danger? The National Autism Association offers potential reasons.

In addition, the National Autism Association offers many helpful tips to keep children with autism safe. [To view their webpage with safety guidelines, please click here.] Specifically, they focus upon prevention, education, and response. To prevent wandering they recommend the following:

––home safeguards, such as locks and fences to keep children from wandering from home;

––identification bracelets or tags;

––community awareness to alert those who might encounter the child and to teach how to interact with them;

––and hyper vigilance to make sure the child is closely supervised, especially in unfamiliar situations.

For education, the NAA recommends identifying triggers that may cause a child to elope, such as loud noises, and teaching them ways to cope with stresses other than running away. In addition they recommend providing swimming lessons to keep them safe around water and using social stories to teach them about safety.

If a person with autism wanders, the NAA recommends immediate response, including calling 911 right away and searching dangerous areas first, including water, railroad tracks, and traffic. Since people with autism are drawn to these places that pose imminent danger to them, family and first responders should always search these areas immediately. In addition, the NAA offers the following essential and helpful guidelines for law enforcement officers when dealing with a case of a person with autism who has wandered.

Although summertime usually brings relaxation for most families, for families with autism, summertime means increased vigilance to keep our children safe. Thanks to the efforts of the National Autism Association, helpful tips for keeping our kids from wandering and for dealing with the crisis of wandering remind us never to let down our guard when it comes to protecting them from harm. Hopefully, awareness of this crucial issue can prevent more tragedies from happening when people with autism wander. Of course, as parents, we also pray that God will always keep our children safe.

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” Psalm 18:2

No comments: