Just a note of CAUTION on this July 4th Independence Day 2021. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), by its very nature, may have parents striving for their child’s ‘INDEPENDENCE’ while keeping them ‘SAFE’. Keeping all children safe is important. But, keeping children with autism safe becomes even more of a priority because of their social, sensory, communication, and behavioral challenges. Hopefully, this BLOG will start the process of thinking about PERSONAL & HOME & FIREWORKS SAFETY for the whole family.
FIREWORKS can brighten celebrations, but can frighten those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Noise from fireworks can be startling, triggering a startle response, or even a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-like (PTSD) response. The unpredictability of the sudden explosion(s) can set off an individual’s ‘arousal’, and/or ‘fight or flight’ response.
Brodie (2013) – Laurie said I remember how someone was always on ‘Scott duty’ when the family went out. It usually meant actually holding on to him so he wouldn’t just run off.
< My Thoughts > “… holding on to him so he wouldn’t just run off.”
Children with autism often feel compelled to flee from their environment. The situation or setting doesn’t seem to matter; they just take off to parts unknown. Any and all of these events may also cause an epileptic seizure event.
If your child is known to wander, you may want door alarms to prevent your child from leaving your home without your knowledge. Or, there are several types of child locators available, as another possible option.
Naoki Higashida, a 13-year-old-boy with nonverbal autism, through facilitated communication, answered questions concerning his elopement activity.
Question: Why did you wander off?
Answer: My body was lured there by ‘something’ outside. As I was getting farther from home, I didn’t feel any fear or anxiety. I had to keep walking on and on. Turning back was not permitted, because roads never come to an end. Roads speak to us, people with autism, and invite us onward. Until someone brings us back home, we don’t know what we’ve done and then we’re as shocked as anyone.
Sparklers burn as hot and as bright as a blowtorch at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit! Persons with ‘light and sound sensitivities’ may be vulnerable for PTSD-like responses. Those with maladaptive coping strategies and/or reduced help-seeking behaviors may have a unique perception of what is going on within their social sphere.
Dr. Todd Favorite (2019), director of the University of Michigan Psychological Clinic suggests that symptoms of PTSD may include:
- Extreme vigilance and arousal
- Nightmares or insomnia
- Negative changes in mood
- Intrusive thoughts of the trauma
- Avoidance or social isolation
People with PTSD typically are highly alert to any movement or change that could signal danger.
< My Thoughts > “…signal danger.”
Persons with autism often have ‘sensory issues’. Senses may be distorted or exaggerated to be interpreted as a ‘signal of danger’, especially when it is unexpected or unusual. The smell of smoke and flashes from fireworks could be that kind of trigger, along with the unfamiliar sounds and emotional excitement of the surroundings. Ear plugs, or earphones playing soft music is often suggested. But for our Sonny, that is just added stress. His ‘supersonic hearing’ sense cannot be dissuaded that everything is ‘okay’. We even tried driving to a remote area to view the city’s fireworks display through the car windows, with his favorite music playing. Nope, he began to engage in a long extinguished ‘SIB’ behavior.
Sicile-Kira (2014) thinks that some children with autism participate in self-aggressive behavior (SIBs) because they could be in pain and don’t have any other way of communication this. She also has seen ASD persons self-injuring in the throes of a PTSD flashback. She defines SIBs as hitting, biting, head banging, flicking fingers, or slapping oneself as a possible method of sensory seeking stimulation to relieve anxiety, pain, or frustration.
Celebrations, such as barbequing around the backyard swimming pool. Swimming pool and water safety lessons are crucial for children with autism. The attraction to the water and no fear of danger, a symptom of autism, becomes a critical safety issue. If you own a pool, fence it in and make sure your gates are self-closing and latch above your child’s reach. Keep all pool toys and other interesting items out of the pool area when they are not being used. Ask your neighbors with swimming pools to follow these safety tips and make them aware of your child’s potential for wandering. Swimming pool and water safety lessons are crucial for children with autism. Knowing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is crucial for all family members.
Stay SAFE and enjoy your 4th of July INDEPENDENCE DAY!
Brodie, P. (2013). Secondhand Autism; eBook.
Favorite, T. (2019). Symptoms of PTSD; Retrieved online from – https://mari.umich.edu/mari-news/psychological-clinic-director-presents-new-research
Sicile-Kira, C. (2014). Autism Spectrum Disorder (revised): The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism; Penguin Random House Company; New York, N. Y.