Having a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is a never-ending job to make sure that their needs are met physically, emotionally and educationally. Another area of concern is for his or her safety, while they are at school, with you somewhere out in public and even at home with the family. If a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is over-stimulated, he or she may try to wander off in search of a calmer environment not realizing that you are unaware of their location. Remember that children with Autism do not process information the same way that we do and they will not give notice before an unforeseen meltdown possibly leads to an unsupervised adventure. So, it would be a good idea to get to know your neighbors in the event that this happens.
Autism can best be described as a brain-based disorder that impairs the development of a child’s social behavior and communication skills. It now affects an average of 1 in 88 children, a 25% increase of from the previously reported 1 in 110 children in the United States. An estimated 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are affected by autism in the United States, almost 5 times more boys than girls. Autism Spectrum Disorders affect over 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions around the world. You might know what Autism is but, how much do you think that your neighbors actually understand about your child?
A child with Autism may tend to stand out to people because of his or her behavior or unusual characteristics. Introducing your child to those neighbors, that you consider trustworthy, will help them learn more about your child and become part of your child's support system. Your neighbors will be willing to call you right away if they see your child outside your home, especially if unaccompanied by you or another family member. Be sure to let your neighbors know if someone else is scheduled to care for your child, in case there is an emergency.
Here are several questions, from which you will want to decide, what information that you will want to share with certain and your most trusted neighbors:
- Does your child respond to having his or her name spoken?
- Would a stranger think your child is deaf?
- Is your child afraid of vehicles and animals, or is your child attracted to them?
- Is your child a wanderer or a runner?
- Is your child attracted to bodies of water such as ponds, creeks, lakes, rivers or swimming pools?
- If your neighbors see your child without adult supervision, is there a specific way that would work best to help them get your child back to you?
- Are there certain things that "trigger" or cause your child to have a "meltdown"?
- Does your child have sensory issues that your neighbors need to know about?
You can make up a flyer that has your child's picture and pertinent information such as name, age, address, the best phone number to contact you with an up-to-date physical description of your child, what he or she is interested in, if they are verbal or non-verbal and a summarization of their attributes or characteristics. This will help in smoothing any interaction that may occur between your neighbors and your child. By sharing information about your child and his or her need to be protected, you are taking steps to prevent problems and you are helping your neighbors understand your child's unusual behaviors. You are also communicating that you are open to talking about anything which concerns your child and the neighborhood, and you are letting your neighbors know that they should contact you before they call 911. Knowing your neighbors and making them comfortable with your child's differences can lead to better social interactions for your child. This will help your child as he or she matures and earns more freedom to interact with other neighborhood children. When I see my own child is having a good time with his friends in our neighborhood, it makes me proud to be a part of helping him to develop important social skills.
2. Autism Science Foundation
What is Autism?
3. Our Mom Spot
Autism "How-To" Guide for Parents
Fall 2012 from L-R: Nathan (9), Lorrie, Matt and Vincent (11)