Creating an autism friendly home is vital if you are looking after children with autism.
This article is a contribution from our good friend Ali Elen. Thank you Ali for bringing this important subject to front of mind.
Of course- any new parent finds sooner or later that they must adjust their home once their child start crawling- as dangers suddenly appear from everywhere. Little things that you’d never paid attention to before are suddenly life threatening objects or situations that must be addressed.
For example that chic coffee table with the sharp corners must go, that trendy infinity pool must be now be fenced in, those little stones in the rock garden must be removed or lifted out of reach as they may cause choking by curious little people who put everything in their mouths.
The safety risks are very serious for children with autism and must be carefully thought about and addressed….
Children With Autism Are at a Higher Risk of Injury at Home
“If a disease were killing our children at the rate unintentional injuries are, the public would be outraged and demand that this killer be stopped,” said Dr. C. Everett Coop, 13th Surgeon General of the United States.
His words were a response to one major public health concern that has worsened over the years: injuries.
Around 644,8555 children under 15 killed by an injury like choking or drowning, which occur within homes and other supposedly safe environments. For children with autism, the statistics are unfortunately even worse. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health has found that children with autism are around three times more likely to experience mortal injuries.
Why are Kids with Autism More Likely to Experience Injuries at Home?
In 2008, Danish scientists found that the mortality risk among persons with autism was twice as high as the general population. Risk factors include the tendency to wander – around half of all children with ASD attempt to leave a safe spot in the home.
Around 47% per cent of kids with autism had been hit by peers or siblings, according to research published in Issues in Comprehensive Nursing, and this phenomenon can also occur within the home, especially when children are unsupervised.
Indeed, outside the home, bullying is also a major risk for injury, since 65% of parents have reported that their children with Asperger’s faced the effects of victimization and bullying behaviour by peers at school.
Autism, ADHD, and the Threat of Injury
Around 30% of children with autism have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Carolyn DiGuiseppi, professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at the Colorado School of Public Health, says that the strong link between ADHD and autism helps explain why children have a higher risk of injury as a whole.
Studies have refuted the idea that motor or behavioral problems are responsible for the risk. Rather, distraction itself, and mobility can lead children into potentially dangerous situations at home.
Interestingly, the actual risk of injury for children with autism may be understated.
As stated by Carolyn DiGuiseppi, who is a professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at the Colorado School of Public Health, many injuries among kids on the spectrum may never be treated by a doctor, since the chaos and noise in hospitals, compounded by potentially long waits, can make parents more apprehensive to seek medical aid in the event of an injury.
Autism Friendly Home: Home Pools a Big Threat
A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health has found that children with autism spectrum disorders are 160 times more likely to die from drowning than children who are not on the spectrum.
Study author, Dr. Guohua Li, said that children “have an affinity to water bodies… they need to touch the water to get that calming effect, so they wade into the water and they drown.”
Dr. Li added that autism itself is often not the cause of death; rather common concurrent conditions such as schizophrenia, ADHD, depression, and epilepsy are to blame.
Dealing with Home Safety Threats
Children with autism may have a higher chance of facing an injury at home, but the nature of the risks they face are similar to those faced by other children.
Common problems experienced by children in homes are falls, poisoning, suffocation, drowning, unsafe storage of medications, burns, and improperly stored weapons.
Parents should take extra care to bring these risk factors down to zero to create their autism friendly home.
For instance, all pools should be inaccessible to minors in the home, railings, and banisters should be well maintained and sturdy, and all medications and toxins should be kept out of children’s reach.
Swimming Lessons Part Of An Autism Friendly Home
Because children with autism have such a high drowning risk, investing in swimming lessons from an early age is vital.
Many places offer special needs swimming lessons. The National Autism Association asks parents to “be sure that your child’s last lesson is with clothes and shoes on.”
As stated by the Worldwide Swim School, “Underwater skills like removing clothing and untying knots could be extremely useful.” This is particularly true both for children living in boating communities, and those that may panic or feel anxiety if they happen to fall into a pool or body of water with their clothes on.
Designing Autism Friendly Homes for Safety
To reduce the chance of injury, the entire home should be autism friendly, not just the child’s bedroom.
A home that is well organized and displays a logical sequence as children move through it, can create a greater sense of calm and lower chances for distraction.
Colors like green and pastel pink help create less sensory stimulation, and indirect lighting can also increase comfort. The connection of the emotional states created by home interiors and the likelihood of injuries should not be overlooked.
Creating amenable home spaces can reduce behaviors like wandering and other behaviors that can result in accidents. In bedrooms, the use of weighted blankets can help children feel calm and stay asleep throughout the night.
Public Health Implications For Autism
Measures also need to be taken at a governmental level. In a 2017 study on injury in children with autism, researchers note that the substantially high risk of death from unintentional injury demands that “prevention programs specifically targeting these risks be developed and implemented.”
In another study published in 2018, researchers stated that doctors should also play a role in reducing injury risks: “Clinicians caring for children with both ASD and attention problems should consider providing targeted safety advice.”
Reducing injury rates among children with autism involves the creation of prevention programs as well as the adoption of risk reduction measures at home.
Because every child is different, their triggers are also different – as are specific risks at home.
One of the most important areas to target is swimming. Children are at a threat of drowning not only at home but also at any place to which they may wander.
Using tracking devices, introducing neighbors to your child, and improving security measures at home can help you breathe easier, knowing you have significantly reduced any chances of injury.
Taking steps to anticipate and address dangers and creating an autism friendly home can improve your child’s quality of life and save you a lot of heart ache later.