How to create a safe environment for a child with autism
Every parent's priority is to ensure their child is safe. However, if your child has autism, you might be even more concerned about their safety. Follow these tips to create a safe home environment for your child.
Create a retreat
Children with autism tend to be more sensitive to stimuli. When there is too much stimuli, your child might become overwhelmed and stressed, which can lead to troubling behaviours, such as tantrums. Laura Shumaker, mother to a son who has autism and author of A Regular Guy: Growing Up with Autism, has found that keeping her home uncluttered has been an important part of keeping her son safe. She's also found that it helps prevent her son from being overstimulated. While it might be difficult to keep your home orderly all the time, setting aside a safe place in your home for your child is important.
This should be an area they can go to when feeling overwhelmed, and it can also be a good location for tasks that require no distractions, such as homework or behavioural therapy. Arrange the furniture in this room in a way that makes sense for the purpose of the room. For example, if your child is expected to do homework there, it will need to have a desk and the necessary supplies. Label everything with picture images, and use clear containers so your child can avoid frustration. This will also help with the organization of the room so that your child is not overwhelmed. You might also want to include sensory products in the area to help calm your child. This might include weighted blankets, weight noise machines and tactile toys.
Focus on home safety
Your home environment should be designed to prevent injuries to your child. Ensure that all furniture is sturdy so your child will not be at risk for injury should they climb on it. Bolt bookshelves to the wall so they will not fall over if climbed on. Pica, a condition that causes individuals to consume non-edible materials, tends to be more common in children with autism. As a result, it is important that any hazardous materials, such as cleaning products, medications and pesticides, are secured. You will also want to secure any other items that might be dangerous to your child, such as knives. Using stop sign labels on areas of the home that are unsafe for your child might help to remind them to stay away. Children with autism tend to be attracted to fans and electrical outlets, which can be dangerous. Make sure the cages on fans will not allow small fingers to slip through, and cover any electrical outlets. If necessary, install window and door locks. If your child bangs glass, you might need to replace your windows with Plexiglas to prevent breakage.
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Shannon Rosa, senior editor and co-founder of Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, has found that her son is a 1:1 child. This means that when she and her husband are not able to be with her son, he is with a "respite worker we know and trust — and that our son knows and trusts." She says this allows her and her husband to not worry about their son and also allows their son to relax. Finding good support can be very helpful in ensuring your child is safe at all times. It is also important to teach your child how to behave. Use social stories to illustrate proper behaviour, and include visual signs to help your child understand what is acceptable. For example, you can use coloured tape to remind your child where they need to be and pictures to remind them of what they are supposed to be doing.