Every day non-threatening environments such as a grocery store or mall, can be highly stressful and disruptive to a child with sensory issues. But for most of these places, we know the environment, we know the coping mechanisms we will use to help our child navigate and if a melt down occurs, we know how to keep our little one safe and make an exit to a more calming environment.
My daughter Sophia has always been a runner. Even in the grocery store at a very young age, the slightest sensory intake could make her bolt on me. In one situation, I had to make a quick decision to leave my three year old in the cart alone, to chase after Sophia to keep her from running out the automatic doors and into traffic in the parking lot. I said a quick prayer and hoped that a guardian angel would keep an eye on her while I ran after Sophia. After that incident I rarely took both of the girls together anywhere for safety reasons. As my son got older, he became a really great help in these situations.
No one likes to play the ‘what if’ game, but what happens if you are suddenly unable to tend to your child? If you were in a car accident and unable to move or unconscious, what are the chances that your sensory child would bolt from the car into traffic or wander into a neighborhood? Would medical responders or good Samaritans know your child was even in the car with you? If you couldn’t communicate, how would you describe what your child looks like? Would they know your child has sensory issues and how to help them stay calm? And if they had to transport your child to the hospital, what difference would it make if a nurse had advance knowledge that your child had sensory issues or special needs to properly care for them?
Below are a few small preparation steps that could save your child’s life:
- Place an envelope marked “EMERGENCY” on the outside of the visor in all of your vehicles. Inside the envelope, place a paper or index card with the following:My son SHAWN is 7 years old and is AUTISTIC. He has SENSORY ISSUES and does not respond well to loud noises, bright lights or strong smells. If unsupervised, he is likely to RUN or WANDERaway and does not respond to his name being called. If he is missing from this vehicle, please assume he may have wandered or run away until you can confirm he was not in the vehicle. The best way to CALM him is to move him to a quiet place with dim lighting. His favorite movie is _____ and his favorite snack is _____.He is currently on the following MEDICATION:
An emergency supply of his medicine is in my purse.
1. Name, relationship, phone 1, phone 2, phone 3
2. Name, relationship, phone 1, phone 2, phone 3
Also tape a recent picture of your child and their full name and nick name
- In your cell phone, add a contact name that begins with ICE and dials to your primary In Case of Emergency contact. This helps medical responders find a contact quickly.
- Have an extra supply of their medicine secured in the trunk or glove compartment if you don’t normally carry it with you in your purse.
- A copy of this card and photo should also be in your wallet/purse if something were to happen to you unrelated to your vehicle.
- If you are in a situation where you can’t move but are conscious and you are afraid they will leave the vehicle, try singing a song with them that they know well. I taught Sophia the Twelve Days of Christmas and use it all the time when we have a lengthy transition to get through. Somehow it distracts her and buys me significant time.
The most important thing is to spend a few minutes thinking through this situation and adapt the message and plan based on your specific needs. If you have anyone else that drives your child on a regular basis, you should consider putting this envelope in their vehicle as well. Even the smallest fender bender can cause a major swing of emotions and sensory processing that can create a very dangerous environment for your child. As my friend used to tell me, “your child is predictably unpredictable.” That means to plan for the worst and hope for the best to keep everyone safe.