If there is one thing that Floridians know well, it’s hurricanes. And what better time to discuss hurricane preparation than the official start to the hurricane season? In the blink of an eye, summertime in this beautiful state can go from beach days under clear skies, to panic-buying water at the grocery store as we prepare for a named storm. A quick internet search will quickly reveal countless hits with links that will help you get ready for a big storm. For instance, https://www.ready.gov/kit is a great resource for your general hurricane preparedness kit. This resource provides helpful tips on how much food to buy, and what materials you should keep on hand in the event of a power outage or evacuation situation. This type of resource is incredibly helpful for general hurricane preparation, but when preparing a hurricane kit for your child with autism, there are a few other things that should be kept in mind.
It’s important to remember that power loss is very possible this time of year, so keeping electronics charged, with extra chargers available, will go a long way. Many of our kids LOVE their tablet time, and when hunkering down during a storm, having the comfort of a favorite game, video or song can help keep little ones busy and distracted while the weather becomes less familiar. Also, many kids rely on electronics not just for entertainment, but as their main form of communication. Make sure you keep your AAC charged during a storm, and if you need to evacuate, make sure your child’s device and device charger evacuate with you. Lastly, in this day in age, we all tend to store our contacts and records electronically, but what if you cannot turn your electronics on? Would you know how to reach your pediatrician or your child’s behavior analyst? Having paper copies of important records will help you stay in touch if your go-to device is unavailable for a bit.
In addition to preparing your devices, you will also want to pack a bag with other non-electronic favorite items like a favorite stuffed animal, book, or fidget toy. If your child has a restrictive diet make sure your bag is stocked with favorite meals, snacks, and special treats. Sesame Street has created a short video about why we need to pack a supply kit. This video was designed to help kids understand why they need to pack a bag https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/topics/emergency-preparedness/. Additionally, Autism Speaks offers a detailed plan that is sure to offer families some peace of mind as we head in to this 2021 Hurricane season https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-speaks-natural-disaster-resources.
Don’t forget that hurricanes can bring a lot of wind and rain, and this can bring a lot of noise, which some kids might be frightened by or find aversive. Talk to your kids about some of the noises they will hear, and have noise cancelling headphones available if loud sounds tend to be bothersome. Also, since many kids with autism get very attached to their schedule and routine, it can feel really terrible for them when things change on them last minute. This is another reason why it’s a good idea to talk to your child about what to expect during a hurricane, and make sure to use words that are easy for your child to understand. Social stories and videos can help teach kids what to expect so there are less uncertainties, and visual schedules can help kids adjust to a new routine when things get shaken up. Practicing routine changes before a big storm is also a good idea. By practicing your evacuation route before an emergency is occurring, your child has an opportunity to experience the change and get more familiar with it beforehand. Families could also practice what to do if the electricity goes out by getting flashlights and using them around the house with the lights off.
In the case of an evacuation certain skills like “staying with an adult” and “answering personal questions” become even more important to your child. Now is a great time to makes sure your child knows all of their personal information like mom and dad’s names, where they live, and their phone number. It is also a great time to master safety skills like recognizing unsafe environmental risks and responding to those risks appropriately. Many kids with autism have trouble staying with their family members during regular circumstances, and will often wonder off when not being watched. By working on this safety skill now, you will be better prepared to evacuate with your child if for some reason you need to leave your home.
Hurricane season is a fact of life in Florida, but the more you prepare ahead of time for your family’s unique needs, the better off you will be as a storm approaches.
In addition to the linked resources above, BCOTB has also prepared a list of items we recommend you include in your 2021 Hurricane Kit.
Hurricane Kit Checklist:
- Vitamins and/or supplements
- Prescription medication
- 7-day supply of non-perishable food (gluten free casein free, if needed)
- 7-day supply of water or preferred beverage
- DVD player with favorite DVD’s (chargers/batteries)
- Comfort toy (i.e. stuffed animal or blanket)
- Noise cancelling headphones
- Hurricane/Storm social story
- Preferred toys/activities
- Sensory items/Fidgets
- Pad of drawing paper
- Child’s own lantern/flashlight
**BCOTB has been Tampa’s leading provider of pediatric ABA therapy since 2003. With four clinic locations throughout the Tampa Bay area, we know that our clinic is the right spot for your early learner! BCOTB focuses on in-clinic early intervention for children from birth to ten years old. BCOTB accepts most major insurances, including, but not limited to: Aetna, Anthem, Baycare, Beacon, BCBS, Cigna, CMS, Florida Blue, Humana, MHNet, Meritain Health, Magella Health, UnitedHealthcare, and TRICARE.**