Keeping children with autism safe at home

When you focus on solutions, rather than problems, you can find ways to make life with autism a little bit easier for you and your child. (Photo: unsplash.com)

Every parent worries about keeping their kids safe, but when it comes to children with autism, it can be downright challenging. That’s because children on the autism spectrum don’t share the same awareness of danger as neurotypical kids. While they certainly find plenty of things scary, they often don’t understand the risk of things that are actually dangerous.

For example, autistic kids are commonly attracted to water, but a lack of understanding about its risks is the reason why drowning is the leading cause of death among autistic children. If you’re thinking that your child will never be near a pool without you, it’s not that simple: According to the National Autism Association, 49 percent of autistic children are prone to wandering away from home, and some make their way to lakes, ponds, streams, and swimming pools before they’re located.

Less dangerous, but equally concerning, is autistic children’s proclivity to self-injury. While some age out of the behavior, half of all people with autism will engage in self-injury at some point in their lives. And since autism can cause malfunctions in the brain’s pain response, children might not realize or be able to communicate when they’ve seriously hurt themselves.

What all of this amounts to is the simple fact that parents of autistic children need to pay extra attention to safety at home. While some measures involve creating a safer physical environment, others focus on creating mental safe spaces that counteract the urge to escape.

Creating a safe home

Eliminating safety risks around the house makes home life significantly less stressful. While you may not need to institute all of them depending on your child’s unique needs and habits, consider applying the following safety measures to your home.

  • Store prescription and over-the-counter medications in a locked cabinet.
  • Put safety gates at the top and bottom of stairwells.
  • Keep cleaning solutions and other hazardous household chemicals out of reach or behind a locked door. Not sure what’s dangerous? Check this list from the Cleveland Clinic.
  • Install locks and alarms on all exterior doors and windows. You may also want an alarm on your child’s bedroom door.
  • Use safety covers on electrical outlets and oven knobs.
  • Store power tools and other potentially-dangerous equipment in a locked storage area.

In addition to taking these precautions, parents should also discuss and reinforce rules around what is and isn’t allowed and what the repercussions could be if those rules are broken.

Creating a comfortable home

While the above precautions will protect a curious child from household hazards, they’re only the first step toward creating a safe home. Often, when a child with autism elopes, self-harms, or engages in another dangerous behavior, it’s because he’s feeling overwhelmed by something in his environment. To prevent undesired behaviors, parents should make an effort to ensure their child feels comfortable at home.

  • Stick to muted interior design and avoid fluorescent lighting, which can be jarring to children with sensory processing disorder.
  • Label drawers, cabinets, and closets with pictures of their contents so children can find what they need.
  • Avoid reorganizing and redecorating to keep your child’s surroundings consistent.
  • Create a sensory diet zone that can meet the needs of a child prone to under- or over-stimulation. This area should be a calming space that incorporates his favorite sounds, textures, activities, and other sensory items.
  • Get an autism service dog to alleviate anxiety and problem behaviors at home and elsewhere. A service dog can interrupt self-harm behaviors, press against your child when he’s experiencing an anxiety episode, and serve as a source of familiarity and comfort.

A child with autism may not have been part of your plan, but regardless of his abilities or limitations, you’re dedicated to providing the best life for your children. When you focus on solutions, rather than problems, you can find ways to make life with autism a little bit easier for you and your child.

Text: Sara Bell, educatorlabs.org - 04/2018