There can be many dangers in the world for kids on the autism spectrum. The world is truly a scary place for these sweet little cherubs. As the prevalence of autism continues to escalate at an alarming rate, the importance of keeping these children safe from harm grows exponentially as well. As a community it is crucial to be aware of the type of dangers that are common with this population of children so that we can take a proactive position to avoid tragedies before they occur.
Common Dangerous Situations For Children with Autism:
- ELOPING-Running away from the safety of a home, school, or caregiver. Often these children have little to no language to assist them in a safe return and little to no awareness of safety concerns such as street traffic and water safety
- DROWNINGS- From pools or other nearby water access
- CLIMBING AND JUMPING- often these children enjoy climbing and will take risks because they are unaware of the possibility of getting hurt
- POISONING- from accessing harmful substances in their environment
- CHOKING- from window blind cords, non-edibles or food
Many children with autism fall into the categories of “stuffers”, “holders” and “grazers”. Stuffers will put too much food in their mouth. Holders will pocket food in their cheeks and hang onto food for an extended amount of time, and grazers will eat very little and get up and move around as fast as they can get the food in their mouths. These children are more susceptible to choking. A recent NY Times article discusses a situation in which a 21-year old student passed away at school from choking on a sandwich. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/30/nyregion/woman-21-with-autism-dies-after-she-chokes-in-cafeteria-at-her-brooklyn-school.html?_r=0
Speech Pathologist, Suzanne Evans Morris, Ph.D. from the Center of Development indicates that some of these children may have difficulties with sensorimotor awareness. They may be unable to feel the food in their mouth or maneuver the food around easily. She has some great suggestions on how to help these children develop better sensorimotor awareness. http://www.developmental-delay.com/page.cfm/169
In an article published by the Global post, there are suggestions given to help toddlers with safe eating that may be applicable for children with ASD of all ages, who are learning to eat safely. http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/teach-toddler-chew-swallow-1722.html
Here are some other helpful suggestions to minimize the risks of a choking emergency in children with autism:
- CPR and First Aid Training for anyone responsible for the safety of the child
- Undivided 1 on 1 supervision while the child is eating
- Engage the child in a calm activity that the child enjoys to encourage a sustained stationary position while eating such as books, songs, bubbles. `
- Teach safety words repetitively throughout the day during eating and non-eating times to increase receptive understanding and to give boundaries of understanding: “sit while eating”, “wait”, “chew and swallow”, “all gone”, “ow”, “too much”, “just a little”, “slow” etc.
- Using songs that are connected to the skill that you are trying to teach, such as “Chew and Swallow” by Michal “Peanut” Karmi, may be helpful to children who respond well to music and sung language. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/chew-swallow-english-spanish/id943537912?i=943537944
- Use emotional regulation techniques such as: proprioceptive squeezes, light touches, a calm and reassuring voice, a beloved blanket or stuffed animal, etc.
- Encourage the 1 bite, chew, swallow, and empty rule
There needs to be widespread awareness of all the dangers that can impact the lives of children with autism and those who love them. Unfortunately, many are not aware of the fatal possibilities that may occur with children who are “stuffers”, “holders”, and “grazers”. Dissemination of information brings about awareness and change and can result in saving lives.
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Image credit: photo supplied by Mr.Dtb via flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/explodingbikes/193621884/