Raising any child is difficult. Raising a child on the autism spectrum adds an extra element of difficulty.
Not only do you deal with daily struggles of managing sensory and communication needs, but autism also comes with safety concerns for parents.
Safety concerns are everywhere for parents with an autistic child.
Children with autism learn differently and many struggle to fully understand the presents of danger around them and what not to do.
As a parent you have to be on guard for common autism safety concerns and how to deal with them on a daily basis.
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How Autism Symptoms Relate To Autism Safety Concerns
Let’s first talk about autism symptoms and how they relate to possible danger.
When a child is diagnosed with autism it’s important to remember that every child is different. There is no other child on the spectrum that is exactly the same as yours!
This is why figuring out your child’s needs is essential because autism spectrum symptoms are very broad.
While one child may run away from a loud noise like a garbage truck. Another child on the spectrum may wander and not respond or resist help.
It all depend on where your child is on the spectrum.
Symptoms of autism that cause safety concerns include:
- Not responding to his/her name
- Wandering or bolting off
- Sensory triggers (loud noises, bright lights, etc.)
- Communication issues (not being able to answer questions)
- Inability to recognize safety concerns
- Feeding issues (taking too large of bites or not swallowing properly)
- Balance and coordination issues resulting in injuries
- Sleeping issues (being awake while others are sleeping)
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What Are Autism Safety Concerns
Remember every child on the spectrum is unique. The most important way to prevent autism safety concerns is by knowing what the behaviors are that are likely to cause harm.
Think about your child’s interests. What interests do you see as a safety hazard?
For my son with autism, he loves playing with or in water! Since those with autism are unaware of safety concerns, he does not understand the potential for drowning or the difference between shallow or deep water.
Bodies of water are the number one concern for parents of children with autism. Drowning is a severe concern due to wandering.
For my own child, anytime he sees water he runs toward it and has to get in. So when we go to trips near lakes or the ocean, prevention from drowning is the number one concern.
Sometimes a child just has to run. Whether they are scared or see something that interests them, they have to explore it.
The problem is that most children with autism struggle with redirection and also don’t respond appropriately to their name when called. Mix this with a lack of concern for the dangers in their surroundings and you have a recipe for disaster.
There are many instances where I’ve had to run across a parking lot through traffic because my son started to bolt as soon as he got out of the car.
Although this rarely happens anymore, it is very spontaneous when he does bolt so it makes it extra concerning for me because I never know when it’s going to happen.
Assuming your child with autism has sensory needs, ingesting household toxins like medications, cleaning supplies, and laundry detergent is a real concern!
If your child has an oral sensory need, this concern becomes greater. Some children simply want to play with cleaning products because they are attracted to the smell or the feel of some foam cleaning products.
But even something as simple as a bubble solution can be deadly if ingested.
Many children with autism struggle to recognize the difference between cold and hot foods, surfaces, and water.
This creates an issue because if your child is indifferent to extremely cold or hot things, they are more prone to injuries from hot or cold surfaces.
Hot baths, stove tops, ovens, holding freezing objects and more can all lead to injury due to a mix of curiosity and not recognizing danger.
Large, High Or Heavy Objects
Yes, even furniture around your house are autism safety concerns!
Blinds, curtains, heavy dressers, TV’s, fireplaces and more are all potential hazards for children with autism due to lack of understanding about safety concerns.
A child with autism does not understand that climbing onto a large upright dresser could cause the dresser to tip and fall onto them.
Even something as simple as a curtain rod has become a safety concern in my house! My son has tried numerous times to stand on a toy chest and reach a high curtain rod in order to hang from it.
Obviously, this is not the best idea because there is no way that curtain rod will hold his wait and he could become very hurt when he falls down.
I have now been forced to place the curtain rod up higher and more the toy chest further away from the window.
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What Can You Do To Prevent Safety Concerns
Now that we’ve highlighted some of the major autism safety concerns, what can be done to prevent injuries?
Let me start by saying that “prevention” is key to limiting the likelihood of injury. It doesn’t mean your child won’t get hurt.
The fact of the matter is that all children push the boundaries when it comes to safety and no matter how much preparation you do to prevent specific things from happening, children still find a way sometimes.
It is nothing you’ve done. By preventing those safety concerns you can rest assure that you’ve done everything you can to prevent your child from injury!
But you still have to be vigilant!
-Know where large bodies of water are located wherever you are. If your neighbor has a pool, make sure to inform them about your child’s autism and see if they keep their fence gates locked or if there is a gate around their pool.
-If you are in an unfamiliar area, research the area to see where large bodies of water are located. This way if your child does wander and leave your sight, the bodies of water closest to you are one of the first places to check.
-When near a body of water, always have your child wear a life jacket. Even if they know how to swim!
-Use social stories to help your child understand about the dangers associated with water.
This cannot always be prevented, but vigilance is everything!
-Make sure you always have your child within your sight.
-Use a comfortable child leash or chest harness to keep your child close to you if they have a habit of running off.
-Try a GPS tracker for you child.
-Use door and window alarms to alert you when your child is trying to leave. This is especially helpful during the nights when a child with autism has sporadic sleep patterns (they are awake, when everyone else is asleep).
-Create a safety plan! This is a plan of action with a list of places your child likes to go, people to call, and more. This will help you think clearly in that time of crisis to find your child faster.
-Instead of placing household toxins underneath a kitchen or bathroom sinks, keep them in upper (locked) cabinets. This goes for medication as well!
-Try using a PECS card with stop on it to communicate with your child that those products are off limits.
-If your child has an oral sensory issue, try and meet that sensory need with chewable jewelry or toys in order to decrease the likelihood of your child reaching for household toxins.
-Always test baths or showers for proper temperature and be aware if your child has the habit of messing with the temperature of the water.
-Keep your child away from boiling water
-If your child has a fascination with cooking, teach them how to cook safely and always make sure an adult is present when a child helps cook meals.
-Install stove top covers and an oven lock to prevent possible burns.
Large, High Or Heavy Objects
-Always use safety straps to anchor large or heavy objects like dressers and TV’s.
-Move breakable items to higher shelves
This article is only a quick reference guide to some of the top autism safety concerns!
There are so many dangers in the world for children everywhere. But more so for children on the autism spectrum!
More safety concerns are apparent in children with autism because they have not internal filter that helps them understand what is dangerous and what is not.
That’s were you come in!
Parents of a child with autism are the ultimate safety rockstars! You never know you capacity for love and your protectiveness until you encounter autism.
But the most important skill you can possess as a parent is a watchful eye!
Autism Home Safety: 11 Useful Strategies (sidebysidetherapy.ca)