Where I live, we don’t get tornados, hurricanes or earthquakes – or if we do, they are a mere inconvenience. While flooding is a big concern in this area, our home is not in a danger zone. While that is, of course, a blessing to my family, it also means that disaster planning is not something we often think about. Emergency preparedness for persons with disabilities and special needs is something you need if your child has severe autism or some other disability.
The reality is that with changing weather patterns, the drain on the Earth’s resources especially in the summer, and the real threat of a fire, we have dropped the ball on an issue that should be really important for our family. When your children struggle to communicate and learn, disaster planning is a smart step that will ensure your family’s safety.
Emergency Preparedness For Persons With Disabilities And Special Needs
The recent devastations in this part of the world, though, have safety on my mind.
I know, I know, you’re thinking, “I really don’t have time.” But consider this: During the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, 1000s of kids were displaced from their family and the last child took MONTHS to get back to his mom. I shudder to think of that as the mother of a child who struggles to communicate! We lost Zoe for a few hours once (autism wandering or elopement is common), and it was a pure, living nightmare not knowing how she was faring if she was alive or not, and knowing there was no way to ask for help or tell anyone who we were.
When we consider the devastation of Puerto Rico in 2017 and the Bahamas in 2019, thanks to hurricanes, those of us who are caring for kids with special needs have to be prepared should a disaster hit our home. Even if we don’t live in areas affected by typical natural disasters, anyone can be in danger from fires, floods, and power outages.
A Disaster Plan For Families with Disabilities And Special Needs
Ok, now that I’ve put that chill up my spine, it’s time to reconsider my own family’s needs in case of emergency. Your kids’ needs won’t match mine, but I know there are things I would need to have on my list for my kids. Some of those items would be:
- An emergency contact they can trust.
- Transitional toys.
- A device for communication. This can be as simple as some PECS card or an iPad.
- Water or a mini fan. My daughter has difficulty regulating her body temperature.
- Snacks that fit their dietary needs.
Now that my back to school shopping is nearly done, this the perfect time to put together a disaster planning list. Like our kids, all families have different needs and your considerations may not match mine. By evaluating your kids’ needs and crafting an emergency plan to ﬁt those needs, your family can be better prepared, not scared!
Now Is The Time To Create an Emergency Preparedness Plan
This is the perfect time to start making a disaster plan for your family. To start, you need to understand local potential emergencies. This includes home, school, and work. We might never get a dangerous hurricane by my home, but we have had snow and flood emergencies!
If you make a plan now that includes:
- how to get in touch with each other
- where to meet
- who can help at your child’s school, particularly if your child cannot communicate
If being without access to medications, help, or any other services your child needs to maintain his or her health, safety and independence for even a couple of hours or days could be devastating, and you need to be prepared more than ever.
How To Get Started With Your Emergency Plan
The first step to making a plan for you and your family is to think about what every family member needs in a disaster or emergency situation. Here are some things to consider:
- Collect information: Create a paper copy of the contact information including phone, email, and social media info for your family, friends, caregivers, neighbors and other important people/offices, such as medical facilities, doctors, schools, workplace contacts or service providers.
- Practice Your Plan: Consider adaptations your child requires: assistive technology, transition tools, etc.
- Make an Emergency Supply Kit: Stock a basic disaster supply kit. Plan for sheltering at home, at work, and on the road.
- Create a Medical Plan: Put important medical information for every family member onto a flash drive or mobile device for easy transport during evacuation. Have your medical professionals update it every time they make changes in your treatment or care.
- Plan for Possible Evacuation: During an emergency, be ready to explain your needs to first responders and emergency officials. Evacuate to a shelter that can accommodate your family, service animal, caregiver, personal assistant, and your assistive technology devices and supplies.
- Make a Power Outage Plan: Plan alternative ways to charge your mobile devices, and communication and assistive technology devices before disaster strikes. For example, keep your rechargers charged can have a car charger.
Planning for Kids with Special Needs
- Share Your Plan: Tell the loved ones, neighbors, and friends about your plan, especially if your children have communication challenges.
- Planning for Special Diets: For kids with food allergies or sensitivities, this can include special foods. Don’t forget medications, epi-pens, bandages, water, medicine for cuts and burns, flashlights, extra batteries, candles, and matches.
- Medication and Supplementation: If possible, keep extra on hand in your emergency kit. For things that expire, store away, then use/replace nearing expiration date.
- Medical or Behavior Support Devices: Chargers are not just necessary for phones! Obviously medical devices need to stay charged and working, but it’s wise to keep behavioral apps or safety products charged as well, as well as things like weighted blankets or clothing.
- GPS Devices: Make sure if your child has a GPS tracking device, like an Angelsense Autism Tracker, that it is charged and he or she is wearing it. Even if wi-fi goes down, you want it to be active when it comes back or they are in range.
- Behavior Support: Plan for children with disabilities and people, who may have difficulty in unfamiliar or chaotic environments. You can make a game out of your disaster plan, allowing the children to “play” through a mock event. Pick the one most likely to happen – for us, again, that would probably be a fire. Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s team at school what their plan is if you don’t know it. How will they help your child cope and get to safety in an emergency? How will they get in touch with you and who will they contact if they cannot get you?
- Service Pets: Don’t forget to prepare your service pet as well! Learn what you need to add him to your family’s emergency plan in this PDF.
You’re Not Alone
If this sounds overwhelming, there is help! Get a full list of resources to guide you in making your plan, what you might need, and ideas to get you started, visit the Ready.Gov Make A Plan page. They have a huge list of resources. Many of them are things you would probably never think you might need in a disaster situation.
Parents can even get the kids in on the disaster planning fun! Disasters affect everyone. So it takes everyone – youth, parents and community members – to help prepare. Get your kids involved:
Now you are ready to start your emergency and disaster plan! Taking care of emergency preparedness for persons with disabilities and special needs in your family is vital to protecting them.
To get more information on how to make a family emergency communication plan, build a disaster supply kit or to learn how to get involved in community preparedness, please visit the Make a Plan page.