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Monday, August 10, 2015

Autism and Emergencies. . .some tips.

The (VERY) recent forest fire near our home certainly clarified a lot for us: We learned what was really important to us, we learned how to pack using every available inch of space, we learned that we need to have a list of must-takes at the ready in case we ever have to evacuate in minutes, and we learned that stuff is just stuff. Even the stuff with memories attached.

But a harder lesson to learn had to do with our 14 year old son. Adopted from the foster care system, this precious kid has had a LOT to deal with. . .Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Epilepsy, a Cecostomy, and Autism, just to give you some of the biggies.

And BOY did we learn that his various diagnoses do NOT blend well with the frenetic energy of an emergency. . .especially one that lingered over several days. The tension we all felt knowing that we could be asked to evacuate at any moment was stressful on the rest of us. But, for him, it was unbearable. And dangerous.

After only a short while into the chaos, he ran away. Just couldn't handle us all running around the house trying to figure out what to take and how to get it all in. We had given him a simple, calm task to do while we all ran around, but the energy of the rest of us made him melt down and slip away.  Thankfully, the evacuation order wasn't given and we got him back, but not before this Mama visited a depth of fear unknown before. . .what if we couldn't find him in the forest and the fire swept through?  What if we waited too long to get our other kids out while we looked for him? What if?

After the (amazing, unbelievable) fire crews contained the fire (many, many days later!), I realized that we can't regard this event as a one-off.  We live deep in forested land, for goodness sake.  So, I decided to not only fine tune our evacuation plan, but to develop one specifically for our son. If you have a special needs kid of any kind, this might be helpful to you in an emergency of any kind:

  • Have an overnight bag already pre-packed and ready to grab. Don't ask them to do it, even if they seem calm enough and would normally be able to.
  • Have a second bag packed containing whatever typically calms and regulates your child: weighted blankets, special toys, snacks, music. I recommend having duplicates of whatever works for him in this bag, so you're not hunting for a cd or weighted blankets at the last minute.  
  • Throw any medications or supplies into this bag and you'll have the bare minimum to care for your child in another environment.
  • Calmly escort them to a quiet place and engage them in an activity that normally helps them regulate: playing legos, watching a video, drawing, listening to music.
  • Try to keep the noise level down (overstimulates)
  • Try to keep the light level wherever they are as low as possible (overstimulates)
  • Speak as quietly, calmly, and matter-of-factly to them as possible, giving only simple and clear bits of information as needed. (It was surprising at how much talking to our son overwhelmed him when all the other stimulations were present. He can normally carry on a fairly typical conversation, but certainly could not in the middle of drama)
  • Check on him frequently, but don't engage if he seems calm and connected to whatever he's doing
  • Make sure to feed and hydrate him regularly. Nothing helps a situation go south faster than forgetting this!
  • And make sure you have prepared an emergency "to do" list to follow so that you are as calm and focused and efficient as you can possibly be.  The less you are flapping about, the more relaxed he will be.

I hope this helps. . .though, quite frankly. . .I hope you never have to use this advice!

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