School will soon be out for summer, which means your child’s daily routine will likely change. The Autism Alliance of Michigan hopes that every person with autism is able to enjoy the same fun and adventures that summer brings to their peers, however with a little extra planning and preparation to keep everyone safe!
Summer Safety Plan
Summer often introduces new day providers, family members, or summer camp staff to help care a person with autism, and those caregivers may be less familiar with autism and how autism impacts the care that a child with autism needs. In addition, during family vacations, travel, and visits to attractions, there will be many people who do not have a high level of autism awareness.
Before the summer begins, develop a Safety Plan for your child. Prepare Emergency Information Contact cards for home, camp, and in any vehicles in which the child may travel. Make sure each emergency contact information is current and includes a current photo of your child. You should also consider providing a copy to your local Police, Fire, and 911 Center.
Consider this great tip from a parent in Rochester, Michigan- She takes a photo of her child each day with her cell phone. That way, if her child ever wanders away, she always has a current photo readily available including the clothes her child is wearing that day!
Summer is a great time to introduce your child to your neighbors, since so many are outdoors. Talk to them about your child, and the tendency of people with autism to wander, and ask them to notify you immediately if they see your child wander from your yard.
Summer School, Day Care, or Camps
All caregivers must understand that a person with autism has a higher likelihood of wandering or unknowingly putting themselves in danger. Care providers will have to have their eyes on your child at all times. Look for a summer program that can assign a staff member to your child, or to a very small group of children. Prepare the staff for your child’s unique ‘meltdown’ triggers, and the calming strategies that work best for your child. Also, babysitters should understand why extra door locks and noise-alerting alarms are installed or necessary in your home. Prepare to lock away all household toxins and hazards to prevent life-threatening situations.
Beaches, Water Parks and Amusement Parks
Never allow your child alone or away from a trusted adult when going to the beach or water park. Don’t hesitate to have your child wear a life preserver. Take the time to introduce your child to the staff and lifeguards, tell them that your child has autism and explain how to communicate with your child, and about any behaviors they should anticipate. Make sure your child knows and understands the rules to the best of his or her abilities. Pictures or social stories can help with those rules.
Many families travel to a summer destination. Before your trip, review the destination website of any attraction or park. Some destinations will make special accommodations for your child with autism. They may also offer a social story to help prepare your child for a new adventure.
The Detroit Zoo is an excellent example of an Autism-friendly destination. All employees, including more than 1200 volunteers, have been trained in Autism Awareness and Safety, and a social story is available to help children with autism throughout their visit.
An airport can be a particularly difficult situation for a person with autism. Given all of the sounds, lights, people, and hustle and bustle, there may be too much surrounding stimulation. If you anticipate that your family member may have a hard time in an airport, contact the Airport Authority before your scheduled flight. Find out if they offer an Autism Program to walk them through the airport, sit on a plane, or review a social story that will help prepare your them for the flight. Contact TSA Cares 1(855)787-2227, at least 72 hours in advance, if you and your child will need help navigating the security lines and search areas. TSA will also assign you a Passenger Support Specialist to assist you at the airport. Remember to carry your child’s Emergency Information cards with you, and a copy for any rental vehicles.
Enjoy your summer with your family and friends. I encourage you to develop your Safety Plan before summer begins. Having a Safety Plan in place helps prevent tragedies BEFORE they happen.