When a family receives a diagnosis of autism, it comes with a huge list of things to do, items to mark off your list and making adjustments to your home often becomes the last thing on your priority list. Creating the perfect environment definitely ranks below therapies, diets, and schools but once the dust settles and you have the time, these things MUST be addressed as well. However, safety concerns MUST BE addressed immediately. Often times many of these things will have already been addressed due to the child’s behavior or curiosity even before the diagnosis. There are many things that we as parents, fail to think about until a dangerous situation occurs. So let me be the first to make you aware of many of the situations that you need to access within your home environment for the safety of not only your special needs child, but all your children.
All outside tools should be placed out of a child’s reach, preferably in a locked area. Weed killers, pesticides, flea and tick killer, and dog food, should be kept out of reach as well. Lawn mowers, weed eaters, blowers, gas tanks and other equipment should be put away as well. Hiding the key isn’t always sufficient, an inquisitive child can still find harm without the key. Always be aware of poisonous plants or flowers that could be in your yard as well as areas of stickers, possible ant piles or wasp nests. Keep a watchful eye for tree limbs that could possibly break, flowers that possibly have thorns, or other types of foliage that could cause harm. Also be cautious of your fencing, always be certain that gates are closed, that the openings are small enough that a child can’t get through, or get stuck. Watch for broken boards, excess wires, or sharp edges. All houses on average have heating/ air conditioner units, telephone wiring, satellite, gear and other paraphernalia in their yards. Attention should also be given to any items that maybe thrown into your yard by others such as trash, bottles, cans, or waste. Sports gear, toys, bikes, and other outside toys can also cause harm if not treated properly or played with properly. ANY items with water standing should be covered, gated, or nonexistence. Drowning is the number one cause of death in children with autism, do not let your child become the next statistic.
Depending on the structure of your home, this category may or may not apply to you. Many of the same items that could be found in the garage or shop area, may be in the first area of concern “outside”. However, I will mention vehicles here. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE UNLOCKED… children have been known to die in a car sitting in their driveway. Perhaps they died from heat exhaustion, or from hiding in the trunk. ALWAYS LOCK YOUR VEHICLES.
Be cautious of small items that could be put in their mouth. Look for appliances that have safety features, for those that do not, keep out of child’s reach and put up immediately after use. Place knives, scissors, and other sharp objects out of child’s reach. If your child has the potential to play in the trash, put the trash in an unseen location. When selecting kitchen tables, chairs or bar stools, keep your child’s age and height in mind. Also keep in mind that a glass table, heavy ornate chairs, and easily scarred furniture is probably not a wise decision. Place child friendly items on low shelves to decrease climbing. Place oils, grease, and other flammable items on higher shelves, along with other items the child does not need access too. If a gas stove is on the premises, it is important to have a gas shut off valve in case of an emergency.
In the living areas, placement of furniture is key. Never put bookshelves in your home that are heavy and could be climbed upon and turned over. Your furniture should be steady and stable. Watch for extremely heavy mirrors or pictures that could be knocked off the wall, toxic plants that could be eaten, or coffee tables that could be crawled into with the lid shut. If you have stairs, provide a child gate, or door to prohibit children from going upstairs. Also be cautious of curtains that can be yanked down or get tangled up in. Also be careful of blinds or other type of window accessories that have long cords that a child could choke on. If your child is older and able to crawl over the gate, use some sort of alarm to alert you as to when they go upstairs. Keep chairs and other climbable items of furniture away from railings. Floor vents in any room should be covered to prevent small objects from disappearing or small hands or little fingers getting stuck. In some living areas, fireplaces are possible. Although romantic, warming, and lovely, they can also be quite disastrous if precautions aren’t taken. Always teach your child fire safety. Never let them throw items into the fire, sit on the hearth, or play too close even when it isn’t lit. Small children or children with special needs may not realize the difference until it is too late.
Bathrooms can often be an accident just waiting to happen. Children are curious creatures and many things in the bathroom smell and look enticing….. Children have fascination with many things and water is often one of them and water is in abundance in the bathroom. The fascination with water and their often insensitivity to hot and cold could spell trouble. It is recommended that the hot water tank settings be set moderately to avoid unintended burns. Always be cognizant of where your children are in the house. We had a hook and eye lock on our bathroom door when Will was younger to keep him from playing in the water, or getting into anything he shouldn’t. We may need to revisit it and move it higher so he can’t reach it too since I caught him eating shaving cream the other day.. If your child is on a gluten-free diet, many make ups and shampoo’s have gluten among their contents. So children who have this restricted from their diet often crave it. So they can be found drinking shampoo, eating lipstick, foundation, and other items found in the bathroom. Make sure medicines are locked up as well as other bathroom items that could be poisonous or cause injury such as razors.
As with the bathroom, many dangerous cleaning materials and other household items are often stored in the laundry room. Not to mention machines which are large enough for children to crawl inside of. It is highly recommended that this room be locked to prevent your child from entering when not in immediate use as well. A locked door is better than an accident.
Many houses in our area do not have basements, but they have attics. The basic rules are the same. All potentially dangerous items should be out of reach. These areas should be locked or the entrance way blocked when not in use. If your child ever goes missing, these two areas should be the first two areas checked…..
Many of the same precautions that were taken in the living area would apply to the bedrooms. Sturdy furniture would need to be used, however, not so sturdy that it could fall over on top of them and hurt them. Attention should be given to bedding, curtains, pillows etc. You don’t want to provide your child with items that could provide harm if misused. Be cautious of lamps, and other types of decor that come with cords. Toy boxes are awesome for organization but can provide an unwanted hiding spot as well. Make sure knobs on the drawers are large enough they can’t be placed in their mouths but not so large they can be used as stepping-stones to climb on top of furniture. Your child’s bedroom should be set up according to their needs and preferences. If toileting is an issue, you might want to consider concrete floors or tile, if jumping on the bed is an issue, consider putting the box springs and mattress on the floor.
There usually aren’t too many dangerous in the closet its self. However, the danger again is the child hiding within the closet. So always be cautious as to what is in the closet and if your child hides there.
Every home environment is different. We all have different preferences, decorating styles, and ways of parenting. Some of our children may have the same disabilities but still have different issues. Therefore, without knowing your specific situations, the needs of your family the design of your house, I can’t adequately prepare you for every incident or safety issue you might encounter…. But hopefully these suggestions will spark something in you to make your house as safe as possible for ALL family members… A SAFE home is a HAPPY home…