“How a society treats its most vulnerable is always the measure of its humanity.” Ambassador Matthew Rycroft
A fair amount of literature has been devoted to prepping for the needs of babies and children in general and for the elderly, but there seems to be far less information available to guide decision making in prepping for the developmentally disabled members, including those on the autism spectrum, of our communities. According to the latest analysis by the CDC, between 6% and 7% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed as having a developmental disability. These disabilities are separated into a number of categories with the most prevalent being Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
This article will focus on prepping for children and adolescents on the mid to lower functioning end of the autism spectrum. If you are the parent or caretaker of an autistic child, I’m sure you have already considered your child’s or adolescent’s special needs and planned accordingly. This article is intended to serve as a general overview and resource for those who are less familiar with the needs and capabilities of these unique individuals.
A Few Quick Facts
Autism is more common than you may realize, so let’s take a look at a few quick facts:
- More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes, and cancer combined.
- An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.
- ASD is estimated to affect more than 3 million individuals in the U.S.
- Approximately 100 individuals are diagnosed every day with autism in the U.S.
- Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
- Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism.
Based on the prevalence of Autism spectrum disorder and autism, it is likely that either your family or a family in your close community is living with autism. With the consolidations of communities, families, and neighbors that many believe will occur in a TEOTWAWKI scenario, it is quite possible that a child or adolescent on the autism spectrum will come under your care at some point in the future and likely under less than optimal circumstances. Understanding what autism is and how we can enhance our prepping to accommodate the needs of those living with autism will help to ease what may be a difficult transition.
What is Autism?
Many people are familiar with some aspects of autism without really understanding the nuances or specific challenges. Autism spectrum disorder and autism are both general names for a variety of complex disorders of brain development. Each individual with autism is unique, and there is no “one size fits all” description of the way that the disorders manifest in any given child.
Ranges of Functioning
Many of those on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum have average or above average intellectual abilities and have exceptional abilities in a variety of skills. They may excel academically and merely appear on the surface to be very socially awkward or “quirky”. On the other end of the autism spectrum are those who are significantly disabled and are unable to live without significant care and support for daily tasks. There is a relevant quote (author unknown) that is quite instructive: “When you’ve met a child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.”
That said, some of the more common challenges can be functional communications, difficulties with social interaction and appropriate behavior, repetitive behaviors, motor challenges, and sensory processing issues. This is by no means and exhaustive list either.
Functional Communication Issues
Functional communications issues are present in a significant percentage. About 25% of those on the autism spectrum are non-verbal, but many can communicate using alternative methods like sign language or pictures. Many of those who are verbal use language in unusual ways and may have difficulty combining words into meaningful thoughts and sentences or understanding the “give and take” or normal conversation.
Difficulties with Social Interaction and Appropriate Behavior
Subtle social cues, like facial expressions or tone of voice, may have little meaning. And difficulty seeing things from another’s perspective can further complicate any ability to predict or understand other peoples’ actions or responses. Often the body language of those on the autism spectrum can be confusing to those around them, as the facial expressions, movements, and gestures they display may not match what they are saying or feeling.
Exhibiting Repetitive Behaviors
Repetitive behaviors are common, such as “stimming”, which includes stimulating activity such as hand-flapping, rocking, and spinning. It may also include “scripting” or “echolalia”, which is parroting what is heard and repeating words or phrases without obvious contextual connections.
Difficulty Regulating Emotions
Individuals on the autism spectrum may have difficulty regulating their emotions in the same way as more “typical” people, particularly when in a strange or overwhelming environment or when angry or frustrated. This may be in the form of crying, inappropriate verbal outbursts, or in some cases in physically disruptive or aggressive ways, or even through self harm like banging their head, pulling their hair, or biting themselves.
There are a variety of motor challenges that may be present. These challenges may include impaired muscle tone, difficulty in coordinating purposeful movements, difficulty in timing activity between muscle groups, and a general difficulty in understanding where their body is in space.
Sensory Processing Issues
Many people with autism have difficulties in processing and integrating sensory information like vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, because the part of the brain that organizes this information does not work the same way a “typical” brain does. They may be overly reactive or under reactive to stimulation or often some combination. As an example, a child may find a seam in their clothing or the hum of a vacuum cleaner to be terribly painful but be completely oblivious to dangerous extremes of heat and cold or not cry if they fall and break their arm.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor do all of the characteristics apply to any or all of those on the autism spectrum.
Unique Abilities and Strengths
The flip side of the above characteristics are some of the unique abilities and strengths that individuals with autism may possess. As with the above challenges, it cannot be assumed this is an exhaustive list or that any one person with autism has any or all of these abilities or strengths.
- Strong visual skills
- Ability to understand and retain concrete concepts, rules, sequences, and patterns
- Good memory of details or rote facts (birthdays, train engine types, baseball statistics)
- Long-term memory for details related to specific interests
- Computer and technology skills
- Musical ability or interest
- Intense concentration or focus, especially on a preferred activity
- Artistic ability
- Mathematical ability
- Honesty and enthusiasm
All of the challenges may seem overwhelming to those who are not currently living with autism. You may wonder how you could possibly make the necessary adjustments to your survival plan to accommodate an autistic child or adolescent, but information is power and there are also concrete measures that you can take in your prepping to address these needs.
Any parent or caretaker of an autistic child is familiar with the phenomena of meltdowns. To start with, it is important to understand what a meltdown is and to distinguish between a tantrum and a meltdown.
Meltdown Defined and Different From Tantrum
Meltdowns are different from tantrums. Tantrums are thrown on purpose, as a power play and will stop once you give in or the child gives up. Meltdowns occur when an autistic person becomes so stressed that they cannot control themselves and they feel powerless and will not stop until it has run its course.
Stress from Being Overstimulated
Autistic children are often overstimulated by things like touch, sound, and light. They can also be overwhelmed by changes in their routine or unexpected events. Because autistic children often struggle to understand or communicate their experiences, they may have meltdowns. During a meltdown, a child may scream, flail wildly, destroy property, or even respond violently to others.
Discipline, Yelling, Restraint Not Helpful
Discipline or yelling will not help in a meltdown and may actually make it much worse. Physical restraint should only be used when there is an immediate risk of significant physical harm to themselves or others. An autistic child or adolescent in the midst of a meltdown cannot understand the need for stillness or silence or the danger that their behavior may cause for themselves or others.
Tools and Technique to Minimize Meltdowns
There are tools and techniques that can minimize the frequency and potential consequences of meltdowns. To minimize overstimulation outdoors or in the presence of groups of people, useful items to have on hand include:
- Sunglasses – for light sensitivity
- Earplugs to block out auditory stimuli
- Noise cancelling headphones – to block out auditory stimuli for those that cannot tolerate earplugs.
- Wide brimmed hats or hooded shirts – to allow the child to feel some distance from social interactions.
- Fidget spinners or small movable figurines for manual distraction
- Unscented wipes for tactile sensitivities.
- Soft cotton clothing with flat seams and no tags, buttons, or zippers.
Signals Warning They’re Overstimulated
Many autistic children will signal that they are becoming overstimulated by increasing their “stimming” (rocking, humming, hand flapping, et cetera). These signs can be an indicator that the child is overstimulated and needs help before reaching the point of meltdown. If possible, bring the child to an interior room that can be made available as a low stimuli environment with sound insulated walls and low light. Ideally, only the child and caregiver should be present. Swinging or spinning can be soothing because it diverts attention from the trigger and redirects it to physical sensation and may be beneficial in heading off or stopping a meltdown.
Useful items include:
- An office chair with arms that swivels and spins
- An indoor swing
- A weighted vest, Velcro leg weights, or even a backpack with a 2 liter bottle of water in it (The sensation of weight can be calming and help reduce stress.)
- A lead blanket (similar to those used for protection when getting an X-ray)
Structure, Routine, and Consistency
Understand that children with autism often need a high degree of structure, routine, and consistency in their lives to feel safe and secure. It may help them to keep a visual record of their routine in plain sight in the form of a picture chart of the activities for the day and in what order they will occur. Keep the child on the schedule as much as possible, and if you know that there will be a change, prepare them as much as you can, utilizing pictures and social stories. (Use specific examples of what will happen and when with this information tied into people and events that are familiar to them.)
Supplies to Minimize Schedule Related Meltdowns
To minimize schedule related meltdowns, keep a supply of the following:
- Poster board, tape or glue sticks, and markers for making clear visual schedules. (Use pictures to identify activities.)
- Old magazines and catalogs for cutting out pictures of task steps.
- Small dry erase boards and markers for necessary task specific reminders. (For example, you might say, “Hang towel on hook”, et cetera.)
Tomorrow we’ll look at entertainment and supervision, self-care and chores, and food.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part one of a two part entry for Round 76 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Three-Day Deluxe Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $190 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
Round 76 ends on May 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.