Parenting

Hurricanes, Disasters and Autism

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In 2015, I wrote an article about Hurricanes, natural disasters and planning for these disasters with people with autism in mind. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey devastating my hometown of Houston, I wanted to re-share some of those thoughts, so that people preparing for future unexpected natural disasters and those working to survive through Harvey can best understand how to communicate with people with autism in these situations.

 

Most importantly, it’s key to remember that people on the autism spectrum are hypersensitive to changes in routine. Not knowing what comes next can be panic-inducing.

 

Here are a few ways the we can prepare for disasters and the impending road trips they may cause:

 

Read a Book About It

 

Create a visualization of what the trip will be like and what your family’s plan will be if rough weather is encountered. A picture book can serve this purpose, or make a chart with picture icons of the steps you will take if a weather emergency arises. Your child can keep the book or chart in a backpack along with an itinerary of the trip and other personal preparedness items. That way the information can be reviewed whenever your child would like.

 

Include Your Child in the Emergency Prep

 

Your child can help put together the basic items for an emergency kit that can be kept in a weather proof travel container inside the car. Knowing that the family has the items needed to handle common injuries, illnesses and safety situations is a vital reassurance for children with autism.

 

Do a Practice Drill

 

Before the trip, practice what your family will do if there is a severe weather emergency while you are driving. Act out the steps you will take if there is an accident or if you are forced to seek shelter. Listen to a recording of the sounds of thunder, tornado sirens and high winds so that these are less of a shock to your child if they occur. Show your child photos or video of what first responders look like, and how to contact them or react to them if the situation arises.

 

Pack Smart

 

Remember to pack all medications as well as a list of your child’s prescriptions. If your child is non-verbal, a medical bracelet or I.D. tag is important. Pack plenty of your child’s favorite non-perishable comfort foods, as well as favorite toys and familiar clothing so that your child will feel more secure in an unfamiliar environment.

 

Know Your Child’s Sensitivities and Triggers

 

Anticipate your child’s anxieties and what you can do to head them off. Technology provides structure and comfort for many autistic children. Bring along noise-canceling headphones that can be connected to a portable device loaded with favorite music, apps, movies and games. I also suggest investing in a portable battery charter and, if your child uses the Internet regularly, a mobile wi-fi hotspot. These items take on even more importance if you’re forced to take an evacuation route, because you could be in the car for many hours.

My Advice for Parents of Autistic Children

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Parenting is hard. I, personally, do not have experience parenting. But I know how much effort it takes and the work that goes in to raising a child. It’s a ton. The USDA, according to a new study, projects that in 2016 a middle class, married couple will spend about $250,000 to raise a child from birth to age 17. These figures don’t include college-related costs. But still … wow.

 

On top of the financials involved, raising a child through the ups and downs of just being a kid seems extremely, extremely challenging. And that got me thinking … “what advice would I give my parents, if I knew they’d be raising another autistic child?”

 

Explain the Why

 

Spend as much time as you can listening and learning. One thing that often helps people on the autism spectrum is being able to answer the question “why?”

 

Any time you do something, be ready for an autistic child to say, “why did you do that?” And if you want them to develop the same habits as you, or the same values as you, be ready to actually talk about why you do things. The understanding of ‘why’, is so important to autistic children. I can’t stress that enough. Why do you clean when you do? Why do you have the schedule that you have? Why do you watch TV when you do?

 

Watch and Observe

 

Watching and taking notes on actions can be a huge help. Try to pay attention to why your child does things in certain environments. Try to also pay attention to which environments bother your child, and in which environments he or she flourishes.

 

Watch what they do for fun, find out what their interests are, and try to, if you can, (if they’re verbal) engage in dialogue about why they like and dislike certain things.

 

Understanding through Communication

 

You may listen, observe, take notes and still feel disconnected as a parent to an autistic child. But keep in mind, the biggest tool you have for getting along with your child is your understanding and empathy. It takes more than just knowing what they like and observing them in certain social environments. You must strive to communicate, which will help you truly understand the deep-rooted causes for actions.

 

Overall, parenting is hard. I couldn’t imagine the difficulties that came with being my parent. But if you truly try to explain the reasoning for your own actions, while trying to observe, listen and communicate with your autistic child, then I know things will start to get easier.

 

Understanding is the key.

 

Thanks again for reading. Please feel free to post any questions in the comments section below.