Caring for Children on the Autism Spectrum During TEOTWAWKI- Part 1, by Grey Woman

“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.

Motor Challenges

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:

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.

See Also:

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  1. I am the parent of an autistic individual (soon to be a 20 year old) but in maturity, probably more like a nine – ten year old. I think I was given him by God to teach me patience, because I am a type ‘A’ personality pretty much.

    He’s a great kid, but is extremely picky eating what he wants and hates to do outside work because he will get ‘sweaty’ (not a dumb kid :^). Scared of dog, loud noises like fireworks and monster truck shows. He is extremely focused on personal information as you mentioned above, yet has trouble deciding which restaurant he will choose this time.

    Complicated individuals. I give the teachers and caregivers of them credit. It is hard work, but often very rewarding when they find things they enjoy. The look on their faces – pure contentment.

    Thank you for your post on this subject.

  2. Incredibly timely for us.
    Our first grandson, Landon, was born 7 years ago. 5 years ago he was diagnosed with Phelan McDermid syndrome which is a deletion in the 22q13 chromosome. The severity of the deletion determines the severity of the disability.
    Landon started out smiling and he even started to talk a little. Then one day it all went away.
    He is classified in the autistic spectrum but as the author implies autism is a diagnosis with a very wide band width.

    This article describes our grandson in many ways. The “stimming” and meltdowns are daily occurances.

    We travel to their house to baby sit. This keeps things routine. He loves waffles. Poor little guy cannot keep weight on. His metabolism is off the charts and he sleeps 3 hours most nights.

    Tips for families with autistic children are much appreciated. Bugging in would be a major consideration.

    Thank you for this article. We are looking forward to tomorrow’s article.


  3. First thing to do is take stress off of his immune system. That means real food. Lots of meat, especially grass fed beef. Joel Salatin is my hero. Careful about plants, as most have toxins to ward off predators. Grains, soy, refined sugar and artificial ingredients are especially bad.

    Sometimes there are chronic infections. Sometimes there’s mercury, more from mama’s dental amalgams than anything else. Read up on the late Andrew Cutler for how to test for and chelate mercury.

    The damage is not always permanent. Just don’t expect answers from the usual treat-the-symptoms pharmaceutical approach.

  4. What could possibly account for the genome in the United States being so damaged that 6% of the progeny have developmental errors? That’s one out of 20 human beings. How is this possible? What the implications for the future? Is this the same all over the world? Are all genetic strains of human beings experiencing the same level of developmental errors?

    1. “Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.”

      Why? Because autism has been monitized. If a student is diagnosed as autistic the school gets additional funding for it. Doctors and care givers get additional funding for it. Parents of children diagnosed as autistic get funding and other aid for it. It has become a cottage industry. The amount of autism has not increased but the diagnoses of autism has been incredibly broadened to include even simply over active children. If you want to dramatically reduce the incidence oof autism in the U.S. stop funding it with tax dollars.

      1. OneGuy.

        I decided to take a few moments to reflect before responding to your comment because I wanted to make sure that my response was grounded in empathy and education, not anger and conflict.
        When I decided to write this article, I purposefully refrained for opining on the causes of autism as there are as many opinions and theories as there are families affected. My purpose was to educate and prepare, not cause conflict and dissention.
        With that caveat in mind, I can say with certainty that tax payer money is not the cause. Autism is not a cottage industry, it is a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice that no one would ever chose for themselves or their child.
        There is not a parent of an autistic child that would not give up everything that they have, even their own life, for even the slightest chance that their child could have a normal, fulfilling and independent life. That is not to say that these kids are not loved for themselves and with all of their strengths and weaknesses, they are, but it is not always easy.
        I hope that you never experience the heartbreak, fear and weariness that comes with raising an autistic child.
        Watching your child try to survive and grow in a world that they do not understand, and often struggle to tolerate, while knowing that there is very little that you can do to help them is more frustrating and painful than most can likely imagine.
        Please understand that, depending on the level of disability, many of these kids will never grow up to live on their own, they will never marry, have a job, raise a child of their own or even take care of their own basic needs without significant help and supervision.
        Families living with autism struggle every day of their lives to provide the supervision, medical care and educational and therapeutic services that their child needs. The level of services available varies tremendously based on where you live and cuts to those services are pervasive. The costs of raising a child (and caring for the resulting adult) with autism is staggering and most families simply cannot do it alone. Services provided at taxpayer expense are relatively minimal and once the child reaches adulthood pretty much dry up altogether.
        One of the most common fears of parent of autistic children is that they (the parents) cannot live long enough to provide care for their child’s lifetime. What will happen to their child? Who will be able to step in? Will their child be abused, neglected, homeless?
        Autism is not a choice. Autism is not an abuse of the system. Autism just is.

        Grey Woman

        1. Perhaps you cannot see the forest for the trees. My mother had polio when she was a little girl. My uncle had polio and in 1948 I visited him in the hospital where he was in an iron lung. Because of these things and more my mother was terrified of polio, terrified that her children would get it. I was in grade school when the Salk vaccine was given to all children and it changed my mother overnight. Finally this terrible disease did not affect her every thought and action. I can understand that to you what I said made no sense. Your child is autistic and you have to deal with it all the time. You may well be young enough to not remember when the only children who were defined as autistic were totally incapable of being left alone or taking care of themselves. They spent their entire life in a bed room in their home. But today many children who can function are “diagnosed” as autistic. Decades ago they would have been called slow or eccentric or “something”. But they went on to live and work in the community, some did OK and others had difficulty. But today they are “autistic”. Why? It’s a meme, the doctors all read the same periodicals and autism is on the rise don’tcha know so that problem child must be autistic too. BECAUSE, if they are autistic, the doctor gets paid better, the parent gets various kinds of assistance and when the child goes to school the school gets additional funding and more “assistants”.

          I can guarantee you that in next year or two another medical “meme” will occur and many of these functional autistic children will be this new illness and parents will form support groups who will lobby congress and congress will allocate funds for this new disease/illness. And after awhile some movie star will use their bully pulpit to claim this new disease is caused by gluten or coca-cola or whatever product is on the “outs” with the loony fringe.

      2. I am inclined to agree with one guy on this.. Money is a powerful driving force when it comes to the medical industry. People tend to put a lot of faith in the medical field. So much so that Doctors opinions are practically gospel to parents. The evening news is always reporting about a ‘ new study’ that says eating dark green vegetables can make you healthier.. It makes me wonder Just how new these studies are?.. or who is spending money reaffirming the obvious.. The latest study ( tonights evening news on CBS ) is suggesting that if the elderly does some stretching, it will help with their mobility.. Who are these people doing these studies? and what idiot just had the light bulb go off in their head on this obvious fact?..
        Forgive me for digressing.
        Because an Autism diagnosis is painted with such a broad brush, one should be getting second, third and forth opinion on it. perhaps even an opinion from herbalists or dieticians..

    1. Let me say up front that I am not a medical, mental, or behavioral specialist. That said, I have immediate family members who have diagnosis of autism and ADD (separate individuals). And I am of the opinion (and that is all this is, my opinion, which I, like everyone else, is entitled to present respectfully), believe both of you are correct. Autism is extremely over diagnosed, exactly as ADD is. The reasons are multi-faceted. SOME Doctors diagnose any cognitive development problem as autism so that they can get there boost from the underlying forces that line there pockets. SOME parents seek out the diagnosis because it provides an excuse for extremely poor behavior and relieves them from the requirement to discipline there children for unacceptable behavior. It’s my experience that MANY legitimate Autistic children are able to learn acceptable behavior and norms if firm rules and expectations are set and enforced. But I all too often see caretakers simply wave inappropriate conduct off. I didn’t say it was easy, it’s not. There are legitimate cases of autism, lots of them. 6% of the US population? I highly, highly doubt that. What you’re saying is that the legitimate autistic population outnumber the entire population of American Indians in this country. I’m afraid I don’t believe that.

      1. To be specific, 6-7% of children between 3 and 17 are diagnosed with some form of developmental disability (obviously there is a very broad spectrum involved, some of which require intervention and some of which likely don’t). ASD is currently diagnosed in 2.4% of boys and .5% of girls in that age range which produces an overall average of ~1.5% total. In that 1.5% there is also a broad range of disability from the high functioning Aspbergers end to the lowest functioning and completely disabled end. This article refers to the mid to lower functioning end of that total 1.5% spectrum.

        1. Fair enough ma’am. I would like to clarify that I was not accusing you specifically of poor parenting (or caretaking, whatever the case may be). And, statistics aside, I do appreciate your touching on this topic as, like it or not, it is relevant to the prepping community. We can disagree about its prevalence, but I think we see eye-to-eye on the fundamentals.

  5. Really important that a cause of something that affects several percent of population be found — if not for human lovingkindness, then for the pure economic carnage! Scizophrenia (spelling?) reliably affects 1% of population, so must have a genetic component (also may have an environmental component of course) — if GMO’s are the cause of autism, then should be markedl ABSENT in communities / nations without GMO’s. Studies?

    Autism has an extremely strong genetic component, with a 90% twin-twin association. Further studies are suggesting that there is a “copy number variant” issue (the genome has ‘copies’ built in, spares perhaps) ASD patients seem to have four times the numver of copy number variants as siblings. This is thought to be one of the causes, but they now suspect there are over a 100 possible genomic points of error that can cause this. It is more frequent in children of older fathers — suggesting an accumulated error in the spermogenesis.

    So there’s a lot of work needed to further figure out why so many children are being afflicted with this disease……my head spins when I read the complex science that has already gone on trying to find the cause…..

  6. Having worked in the autism “industry” for 35 years, I can attest to first hand knowledge that “one guy” is correct. I was very active in the state & local level (school, home-care, case worker, child advocate etc), when the changes & broadening of diagnosis took effect. The money flowed in & the number of people with autism rocketed. This fact does not in any discount the emotional toll on all involved, Grey Woman. What it DID do was to misdiagnose countless children, including my own beloved Grandson & condemn him to an academic / school career of “be all that you can’t be”. Many thousands of highly skilled workers, including myself simply “retired” in disgust at the monetary ploy.

  7. I have or I should say I am on the autism spectrum. Also I remember reading an article that it said that there really is no autism epidemic. and that it’s really more of a fluid Dynamic and there’s more people on the Spectrum than was once believed one of the founding father so to speak Of autism actually had a lesser-known colleague who wanted to treat the idea of autism different and with more empathy. but that didn’t sell so that’s what you get.

  8. Sure seems like autism is as common as the common cold these days. I’m 54 and I can remember it being very rare growing up…It seems as if they tag every strange behavior as a form of autism. if a child is hyper, they have autism, if they are a little quiet, they have autism, a little withdrawn, autism, a little loud, autism… Im wondering if these kids arent being misdiagnosed.. It certainly wouldnt be the first time the medical industry went over the top in their findings.

  9. I’m not trying to say that gmo s are the only cause of autism as there have always been those that walk to the beat of a different drummer. In a simpler society they could get by doing the simple work such as wood cutting , herding sheep , farming alone, etc. But when reading the studies of animals .fed a diet that included gmo s especially rats the effects that they experienced are showing up everywhere in the human population. Hyper activity. delayed development, lack of self control, brain tumors. cancers and more. I can’t help but believe our population is actively being poisoned this way. I also agree that many children could be helped by just being able to play hard like past generations naturally did. This was a natural stress reliever for children.

  10. Have you researched the comparative incidence of ASD in Amish/Mennonites? Most likely, if the data can be obtained, it would be useful.

    Disease of all kinds is increasing, but in a collapse, people are going to be dying instead of getting tax money for autism. And it will be the caretakers dying, too, for lack of a support base. Another problem is that there are a whole lot more old people than young people. Most of the young people we have are hardly capable of holding a job.

    The healthcare workforce will eat up all our resources unless something changes. Sickness is expensive.

  11. Research on the reasons behind the rise of autism suggest that it is due to multiple factors which include better diagnosis, genetic loading (older parents and also possibly increased marriages between parents who are themselves on the autism spectrum), as well as probable environmental factors possibly related to hormone disrupting chemicals- among others.

    Those of us who are old enough to remember autism being a rare diagnosis can recall clearly children who were considered “odd”, “mentally retarded” or “badly behaved”. Some of those children now have more clearly recognizable and explainable reasons to explain their struggles. Those who assume that autism is simply being over diagnosed for some unexplained financial gain, or is a diagnosis simply of misbehaving or poorly parented children are misinformed. It is not a diagnosis made casually nor easily. Diagnosis of autism requires a comprehensive look at the child by multiple specialties who assess a variety of developmental issues. The teams usually include a pediatrician, child development specialist, psychologist, speech and language pathologist, and often a neurologist. Rather than simply slapping a label on a child, it is an extensive process involving many hours- and a diagnosis that is not easily nor quickly made. These children are nearly always identified first by their own parents who note that something is not quite “right” with their development and interactions.

    Brain scans (MRI) of 6 month old babies can predict with high accuracy which of those babies would have a diagnosis by age 2. in older teens and young adults, a functional MRI scan could identify those with autism at an accuracy rate of 97%. This is not a mythical creation, but a challenging neurodevelopment disorder.

    It is important to determine the child’s challenges early and provide services for them because one fact that is known is that early intervention can lead to substantial success and improvement for many children. Delay in diagnosis and treatment leads to poorer outcome socially, academically, and occupationally. Children and adults with high functioning autism can be highly successful in some careers e.g. technoiogy, but still be lonely, socially isolated, anxious, and difficult for their families, friends and co-workers.

    Everyone who posts on this site is likely to know or be related to someone who is challenged by autism, even if it isn’t formally diagnosed, or admitted to. I am grateful that Grey Woman has raised the issue of how we can help those persons affected by autism, especially as we plan for some of the “worst case” scenarios. I hope we can be understanding of the challenges for those with autism, and also that we can benefit from some of the gifts those with autism can bring to the situation.

  12. Thanks for the post, it is thought provoking to sy the least. For the Nay sayers, take my son for a week and you will give up in one day. I have been fighting the school districts for 5 years now. He needs a Para to help him wield the mental tools nessacary to become a productive member of society. He can do it. Yet the help is resisted. He gets no special funding or treatment nor do his doctors. Matter of fact he qualifies for SSD @ <600.00 us dollars, Frag that does not pay for squat. The resources are being diminished. Recently the school district charged my son with bullying and we as parents are having to go to juvenile court and we will with a lawyer minus the 600.00 it will cost for the representation. Kids often trigger him on purpose and he gets the blame. Thanks again for the helpful post. Ignorance of what Autism is, is stupidity.

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