Parent Page: Navigating Autism id: 31152 Active Page: Crisis Preventionid:31194

Crisis Prevention

Families and caregivers of individuals with autism can experience a range of stressors. At times these stressors can feel overwhelming and, as a result, may increase the risk for experiencing crisis. Crisis occurs when there is an imbalance between the number of demands in one’s life (e.g. child behavior, family problems, and health problems) and the availability of external resources available to meet these demands (support, emergency services, and finances). (Weiss, Wingsiong, & Lunsky, 2014, p. 991).

Preparing for Emergencies

At any given time, caregivers can be faced with a situation that can be considered an emergency.  These situations can catch you off guard and unprepared to address the crisis/emergency.  It can be easy to think about how you would respond to an emergency situation when there is not a crisis at hand, but it is entirely different during the event.  For this reason, it is very important to think about developing a plan before an emergency occurs.  While it may be difficult to think about every emergency situation that may be encountered, the following are some basic plans to help be better prepared.

  • Consider a fact sheet about your child.  Plan to update it periodically, more frequently with a younger child, to ensure that the information remains current. Make sure it is in a location easily obtained and includes a current, clear photo of your child. Download AWAARE First Responders Form
  • Locate your local first responders and make an appointment to take your child to meet them. Use this as an opportunity to educate them about your child and to familiarize your child with those in uniform that they might encounter.
  • Talk to your neighbors.  Be proactive in identifying your child’s needs and challenges.  Give them contact information should they see your child unsupervised in the neighborhood.  Provide them with the fact sheet and strategies on how to approach your child while waiting for help. 
  • Think about making a social story to share with your child about a family emergency plan.  This might include a place to meet if a house alarm goes off.  Practice these drills with your child so they are familiar and routine. Here are two articles to walk you through how to write a social story from Autism Parenting Magazine and Life Skills Advocate
  • Safety Resource Guide from Boston Medical Center Autism Program
  • Water Safety Guide from Boston Medical Center Autism Program

When to Call 911

There are times when a major event occurs that requires the need of local law enforcement or emergency medical assistance. With some of these situations, calling 911 will be an obvious decision.  These would be when there is an immediate threat of harm to oneself or others, or a life-threatening medical emergency.  There also those moment when a loved one goes missing or elopes.  These situations warrant an immediate call to 911.

There are other crisis situations that are not as clear.  During these times, it is helpful to have a plan for assessing the need to call 911 depending on the desired or optimal resolution. Calling 911 might not result in the behavioral and mental health supports that are needed or that you are seeking in that moment. 

So, consider these points:

  • Is there someone else you could call to provide assistance?  This could be a family friend or relative that is familiar with your loved one.
  • Is your loved one receiving services from a mental health or other professional that can provide immediate support or strategies?
  • Could you call a mental health crisis helpline for support? Having the number in a specific location prior to a crisis can save valuable time.
  • Are you able to transport your loved one to a hospital where inpatient mental health is provided?

Additional resources:

Pathfinders for Autism: Calling 911 in a Crisis

Enviromental Disasters

When it comes to emergency situations, practicing a plan ahead of time is essential. While we can’t control events such as natural disasters, power outages, and fires, we can make our emergency plan ahead of time. Below are some tips for navigating preparations for natural disasters with an individual on the spectrum.

Living in Oklahoma increases chances of needing to be prepared for tornadic weather. Taking this into consideration, it is important to practice your safety plan with your loved one with autism. Keeping the following in mind may help you determine various steps to practice ahead of time:

  • If there is a power outage, how will your child occupy their time? How will they accept denial to access from electronics?
  • Where will you take shelter? In your home, basement, storm shelter, or other location? This will determine how you want to practice. If it is an area that your child is less familiar with, such as a storm shelter or alternative location, you may want to pair those environments with preferred items and activities during average weather conditions. For example, taking favorite toys, games, and sensory activities with you and your child and engage with them in your planned sheltered area.

The following tips can be helpful when considering other natural and environmental disasters as well, such as fires, floods, power outages, and winter storms:

  • Write out the steps to your safety plan. How well do you anticipate your child responding to each step? How can you create multiple opportunities to practice regularly? For example, consider your designated safety place in case of a fire. What are the skills they may need to be successful if needing to evacuate? What would practice look like leaving the home or other building.
  • Consider using video modeling or social story (what are these, provide example?) Video modeling is a video that shows the steps to take to complete a task or event. While some video models can be found on the internet, you can also create your own by recording your child taking the necessary steps to follow through with the safety plan. Social stories are a similar strategy that can be created to explain the steps and process of following the steps and knowing the expectations of experiencing a natural disaster. In case of a fire, a video model or social story could be used to describe the process of a fire drill, expectations, as well as evacuating the home and gathering at a safety place. Additionally, consider what stimuli may be present that your child is not used to, for example, firefighters in full protective gear, lights from the fire truck, sirens. When you think about your child’s preferences and stimulation that may come from events such as fires, how could you use videos, pictures, and social stories to better prepare your child?
  • Use a first/ then visual. Using images or simple words, a first then visual can communicate what next two steps need to occur next. First/ then visuals can also show part of a schedule that needs to be completed before receiving a preferred item or activity for example, “First storm shelter, then iPad.”  in two simple images. Use a first then visual to show first going into shelter followed by a preferred activity. See link for sample of visual (make own). Consider activities outside electronics in case there is a power and/or internet outage.