The focus of this article is 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.
Autism- A Prevalent Disorder
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.
In part one of this article series, autism was defined and the subject of meltdowns and how they should be handled was addressed. Additionally, suggestions for ways to minimize meltdowns, including supplies that can help a child and prevent this event, were outlined. Now, let’s move on to lifestyle matters.
Entertainment and Supervision:
Autistic children and adolescents seem to be almost universally mesmerized, soothed, and entertained by iPad and similar tablets with headphones. Storing an extra iPad or two in a Faraday cage with sturdy headphones loaded up with cartoons, non-violent video games (Mario Cart is very popular), and children’s TV shows like Thomas the Tank Engine (trains are often very popular) is an extremely worthwhile investment even for autistic teens and young adults. While I’m sure you would not subscribe to the whole “video babysitter” idea in normal life, in a TEOTWAWKI situation there are likely to be times when it is necessary for the safety and well-being of the group for the autistic child or adolescent to be completely occupied and quiet.
There are other non-video ideas for entertainment. These may include:
- Puzzles (larger pieces are less likely to cause frustration when small motor challenges are an issue),
- The card game UNO (I don’t know why, but it is a winner with a lot of these kids.)
Different autistic children require different levels of supervision. Some autistic adolescents can be left in the home alone for short periods of time as long as there are simple, clearly understood and charted rules for activities and behavior. The risk remains though that anything that requires split second decision-making or that falls outside of the expected pattern of events (such as a stranger at the door) can be a recipe for disaster. In addition, people on the autism spectrum, in general, can be fairly gullible and easy targets for unscrupulous actors, so solo interactions with those outside of the group should be prevented at all costs.
Wandering and Safety Concerns
Some autistic children and adolescents are prone to wandering off without regard to rules or safety concerns. They may be unable to find their way back and may not be able to communicate their address or even the general direction they came from. If anyone in your care is prone to wandering or if it is unknown whether they may wander, safeguards similar to those employed for Alzheimer’s or dementia patients should apply including securing doors and windows, eagle-eyed supervision when outside, and possibly a reflective shirt or vest that identifies them as autistic. There are also personal tracking devices that can be attached to a belt, wrist, or backpack. However, if satellites are not working or the grid is down, those might not be functional.
Self Care and Chores
Autistic children thrive in a predictable and structured environment, and many can take care of their basic physical needs with a bit of planning and even do chores. With the understanding that life “after the fall” may be quite unpredictable, small pieces of structure can encourage independence and confidence, freeing up others for other tasks.
Charts, like the one below, can make the difference and are illustrative of the way many autistic children can learn and perform everyday tasks. While this chart is about showering, the same concept can be applied to almost any “safe” task, such as small animal care, laundry, gardening, pantry rotation, carrying firewood, and basic cleaning.
Some autistic children excel at repetitive counting exercises that may be useful, like packing lunches for the group. For example, they’d open bag, put in one water bottle, one apple, two sandwiches, three cookies, fold top of bag two times, and put in box. In addition to contributing to the overall workload, having a meaningful “job” to do can give autistic children and adolescents a feeling of purpose and belonging in much the same way as it can for more “typical” children and adolescents.
Not Complex Decision-Making or Potentially Dangerous Tasks
It is not recommended for tasks or chores that will require complex decision-making or that have the potential to be dangerous be delegated to autistic children or adolescents. Their thought process may not be able to catch up with unexpected events in time to prevent injury or damage.
Break Activities Into Small Pieces When Teaching
It is important to remember that any activity should be broken up into very small pieces for them when teaching it. Also, steps that “typical” people would assume (like turning off the water after a shower or closing the garden gate after picking red tomatoes and putting them carefully in the basket) should be specified.
Children and adolescents with autism can be tremendously limited in what foods they will eat, due to sensory issues and an instinctive aversion to changes in environment. In addition, there are some studies that suggest that gluten (a wheat protein) and casein (a milk protein) can cause worsening symptoms in children with autism.
Many people believe that withholding food until the child is hungry enough to eat what they are offered is the best strategy. While that may work with “typical” children, it can be dangerous for a child on the autism spectrum, as they may not have the ability to feel or interpret the feeling of hunger.
Because of sensory issues, some autistic children will choose to eat only foods that are at room temperature, only foods that are salty, or only foods that are sweet, et cetera. Autism also often comes with hypersensitivity to textures. It may be how a food feels in the mouth, rather than its flavor, that produces a food aversion. The squishiness of a fresh tomato is a good example. When food stores are limited, this could be quite challenging. Try chopping or blending such foods to smooth out the offending texture.
Introducing New Foods
It is important when you are introducing an autistic child to the foods that are available to be calm and not overtly controlling. Gradual exposure to new foods can be very important. Often, repeated exposure (once or twice a day) to the new food without forcing them to eat it, and while others at the table are modeling eating and enjoying the new food, can allow them to become desensitized to it. Sometimes describing a favorite character (Superman, Cinderella, et cetera) eating this particular food and focusing on the wonderful benefits may get them interested enough to taste it.
If none of these techniques have resulted in the new food being tried, the strategy of offering alternating small bites of a highly desirable food with a small bite of the new food is another option. As always, it is important that this technique not be made into a battle. The idea is to make trying a new food as pleasant and successful as possible. Reinforcing good behavior in autistic children works far better than trying to punish them for tendencies or sensitivities that are outside of their control and understanding.
Items That Help With Eating
There are items that help with meal time and eating. Some of these to have on hand are:
- Plates with different compartments so that foods can be separated (Mixing foods together can be distressing for some.)
- Liquid vitamins that can be added to beverages to mask the flavor while insuring adequate nutrition.
- A hand blender or food mill.
- A weighted lap mat for meal times (Two tea towels sewn together and filled with a plastic bag containing a couple of pounds of sand works well.)
There is no substitute for experience, and one cannot hope to encapsulate all of the characteristics and needs of children and adolescents on the autism spectrum in a single article. I hope that this has provided a general overview for those who are new to autism along with some tools and tips for incorporating this special population into your prepping considerations and post collapse survival plan.
April is National Autism Awareness Month and I would encourage everyone to learn more and support local autism awareness and advocacy activities in your community.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part two 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.