Caring for Children on the Autism Spectrum During TEOTWAWKI- Part 2, by Grey Woman

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.

Non-Video Entertainment

There are other non-video ideas for entertainment. These may include:

  • Legos/Duplo’s,
  • 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.)

Supervision

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.

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.

Food

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.)

Experience

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.

See Also:

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:

First Prize:

  1. 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.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
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  4. 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),
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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.




11 Comments

  1. About GMOs: GMO tech is used to increase plant toxins. It makes them much more survivable against predators. Unfortunately it also increases the number of people who react negatively to them. The countless tons of synthetic poisons used in conventional agriculture have similar effects. In both cases we’re driving the evolution of hardier pests and pathogens. Letting herbivores process plants blunts the damage to the human eater. Eat meat, drink water.

    Women have stronger immune systems than men, thus why boys are disproportionately represented with autism. The downside for women is higher rates of autoimmune disease. Again, take care of your immune system, watch what you eat! Most of the immune system is in your gut.

    An off-grid lifestyle centered around pastured livestock should, in theory, be very healthy.

    1. GMO does not increase plant toxins. It simply provides a hybrid plant that has certain desirable characteristics. There is no known hybrid/GMO food plant that has increased toxins or causes health problems. The “fear” is that a GMO plant “could” someday be created that will do just that, NOT that it has happened but that it “could” happen.

      Women during normal healthy pregnancy do “seem” to have a stronger immune system. But as is well known pregnancy itself brings risks and many pregnant women suffer from health problems that they would not have had they not gotten pregnant. I would say that it is likely that both the positive and negative health issues around pregnancy kinda cancel each other out.

      You do not get autism from a strong or weak immune system. It seems to be something genetic like blue eyes or big nose, etc that is decided shortly after conception. Men are subject to a wider variation of brain development than women. That is if you looked at a graph of the IQ for women it would be a narrow bell curve with the center about IQ=100. Far fewer outliers than men. If you look at a graph of IQ for men it is a wide bell curve (again with the center or average about IQ=100) AND with MANY outliers. Men geniuses outnumber female geniuses by a factor of 2-6 and men “idiots” outnumber female idiots by the same amount. As for the outliers both on the negative and positive side of the graph that is where your super geniuses (and your incredible idiots) are. The autism spectrum is associated with these outliers and most probably would have been geniuses except something went wrong in the first few days/weeks of pregnancy and the mind didn’t fully form as genetically intended. It wasn’t/isn’t because of the immune system or even necessarily gender. A girl babies chance of being autistic is about the same ratio to their chance of being a genius as a male baby’s chance.

      1. Search “plant chemical defenses”. Plants have always evolved defenses against insect predators. The tech used by humans to help that along, be it selective breeding or GMO, is irrelevant. Between “natural” defenses and synthetic poisons used by conventional agriculture we’ve increased the percentage of humans who cannot tolerate certain plant foods.

        Search “women have stronger immune systems than men”.

        A weaker immune system makes you more susceptible to autism. Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger. Exercise what control you can on your environment. Modern wheat is among the worst. The popularity of the Paleo diet is directly related to avoiding plant chemical defenses. So is Zero Carb. The gut dysfunction that is common with autism is well known.

        Remove phytotoxic stress and the body can more easily deal with chronic infections and whatever else is contributing to the symptom presentation we call autism. It may not be enough but it is prerequisite.

        And, as someone with high-functioning Asperger’s, it’s helped me.

  2. Try purchasing food and bread at any “Roman Russian Market” if there’s one in your city, frequently they have non GMO food and bread made from imported Russian non GMO wheat.

  3. I’m not a fan of GMOs but rates of GMO growth and consumption has remained steady https://www.statista.com/statistics/263294/acreage-of-genetically-modified-crops-by-country-since-2003/
    while rates of autism have increased dramatically across the world, which makes this less likely a factor.

    In addition, although women do seem to have stronger immune systems than men, women are actually more susceptible to environmental toxins than men. Women may be more vulnerable to toxic exposures because they have a lower body weight and higher body fat proportions. Finally, hormonal differences may also affect the way a person’s body responds to chemicals. In short…it’s complicated and there is probably not a simple explanation for autism, or we would have found it already.

    Research on the reasons behind the rise of autism suggest that it is most likely 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 brain scan can 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.

    1. Irish Eyes, thank you so much for your comments on these articles. You expressed these points far more eloquently than I could have done.

  4. I have been in the medical field for a long time. Like it or not – some diagnosis are “Cash Cows” to everyone involved. Autism is one of those. Some children with mild symptoms are being turned into complete cripples with all our good intentions.

    It is frequently difficult to separate beneficial treatments from designed for-profit treatments. Nor can you ignore that some of these children are capable of extreme violence.

    The real questions remains:

    Can you provide for all their special needs in a survival situation?

    Can you trust them in a survival situation.

  5. Vitamin D can be helpful in some cases in both preventing and treating autism (see the VitaminDCouncil.com for extensive research on this).

    I had a patient with three autistic children who was pregnant. I was able to persuade her to greatly increase her Vitamin D intake, though not as much as recommended. A few months after the birth, she contacted me, and said “My baby cooes! None of my other babies ever cooed!”

    Another, with spectrum twins, started Vitamin D when they were between 2 and 3 years old. They are now 9 years old, and to the non-specialist, appear to be normally friendly, emotionally related, ordinary children. They do have some behavioral issues, but would do well in a disaster situation. Mom keeps them outdoors as much as possible in good weather.

    It takes a day or so for sunlight to transform skin oils into Vitamin D and have them absorbed through the skin. A hot, soapy shower every night washes all the Vitamin D down the drain. I advise parents to spot clean their children in the summer, with only occasional baths as needed.

    In a grid down situation, sunlight will be almost the only source of Vitamin D.

    I have read that upper middle class, educated, conscientious white mothers have the highest rate of autistic children. The reason seems to be their conscientious use of sunscreen, which prevents both mother and children from receiving any Vitamin D by sunlight. The lighter the skin, the greater the use of sunscreen.

    Genetics may increase susceptibility to autism, but is obviously not the reason, or the rates would not be increasing so rapidly.

    Dark skinned people in northern climates have the greatest probability of Vitamin D deprivation, with all the health risks implied, because melanin is a natural sunscreen.

    This appears to be why Europeans, who were originally black skinned up to 10,000 years ago, gradually became lighter skinned over the millennia. (Argue with the geneticists about this, not me. The ancient English were black with blue eyes. Go figure.)

    Europe is a high-latitude continent, and Vitamin D is also a very powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial agent. As waves of plagues and epidemics occurred, those who had the best protection were more likely to survive. The lighter the skin, the more Vitamin D is absorbed. Also ultraviolet – ouch.

    So both to help prevent autism, and possibly to reduce its effects, in a grid down situation, women who intend to have children should spend as much time in the sun as possible, without burning.

  6. People it seems look for something, anything, that they can isolate that is the main culprit of our demise. Some of the more health conscience folks feel good that they are eating non GMO’s But what does that mean when it’s all watered with the same water?. I have a customer who preaches on about the benefits of organic this and that, while he waters his garden with the same water the neighbors upstream water their crops with. He admittedly wouldn’t drink that water, but by golly he swears his produce is healthier than the stuff the neighbors are growing Keep this in mind this summer while you are enjoying those seedless watermelons or those little halo oranges that are as easy to peel as a banana. Someone tweeked them to make them seedless, and easy to eat, and the water used is the same as all the other crops.

    As for the Vitamin D theory, If vitamin D played a role in autism, Seattle,Tacoma and the entire Puget sound area would win the gold medal for autistic kids. if you visit, you will see just how pale everyone is from lack of sun. My daughter lives in Tacoma and her mother and I live in the Redoubt and Eastern Washington, Our kid always looks pale and sick to us. Sun plays a role in health and happiness. Vitamin D deficiencies are a real problem over there, so is depression. But autisim?..The broad brush that is used to paint autism gets ever so broader.

  7. All, I understand that there are countless opinions regarding the causes and prevention of autism, the parameters for diagnosis, the prevalence of miss-diagnosis etc.

    I leave those determinations to folks with far more scientific and nueropsychiatric education and knowledge than I.

    My hope in writing this article was that I would be able to provide general information about some of the manifestations of autism on the more significantly disabled end of the spectrum and to offer concrete tips and specific tools for those not currently familiar with / living with autism for how to care for those individuals in a worst case scenario.

    While I know that active debate is important in all subjects and we all benefit from opening our minds to alternative theories, I truly and sincerely hope that the underlying information and message have not been lost in the scrum.

    Whatever it’s causes and regardless of whatever % of miss or over diagnosis there may be, there are many individuals that are significantly affected by autism who truly need our understanding, compassion and care, now and in whatever future this life may hold for us all.

    Respectfully,

    Grey Woman

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