As a parent of a 17 month old, I have become very familiar with child safety devices for my home including baby gates, closet door locks, pantry locks, and a pool gate. These are common household items for a family with a young child. For a family that has a child with special needs, including autism, safety measures similar to these, as well as additional measures, may be necessary even into adolescence. Keeping their parents on their toes, many of the children that I have worked with have a keen sense of how things work and are able to “figure” out child locks after watching an adult manipulate them only once or twice. Therefore, additional safety measures must be considered in order to maintain the child’s safety within the home. Below are some suggestions for keeping a child with special needs safe that have been successful with some of my clients at Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay:
- Exit locks: One item that should be a top priority for families of children that tend to wander from the home includes a lock for all entry doors that require a key to exit. Each parent should wear a key around their wrist or neck at all times in order to leave the home quickly in case of an emergency. If a key is required to exit, the child will be safely maintained in the home at all times unless accompanied by an adult.
- Reversed door handles: Many children with special needs wake up in the middle of the night and wander throughout the home. This could be a real safety concern since the parents may not know that the child is up and therefore, are unable to provide supervision. In these cases, I would suggest the parents turn the child’s door handle around (so it is reversed) which would keep the lock on the outside of the door rather than on the inside. This will allow the parents to safely confine their child (by locking their door) to their bedroom at night which can prevent serious injuries that could occur if the child were roaming around the home unsupervised.
- Pantry locks: Another “must have” for a family with a child with special needs is a pantry lock. As stated above, many children can figure out a basic child safety device. Therefore, it is suggested that all food that the child prefers be placed in a specific cabinet that is locked with a chain and combination lock (placed through the 2 handles). Also, be sure that the child never sees you enter the code or you may be changing the code frequently.
- Stacked baby gates: From my experience, many children with autism are “climbers” and may be able to climb over a simple baby gate. In some cases, by placing 2 gates directly on top of each other, you can prevent the child from accessing a part of the house that is deemed “off limits”.
- Video surveillance: Finally, in extreme cases, I have seen families set up cameras in all rooms of the house so that they can supervise the child from the main living area. This is a great safety measure for children who may engage in pica-type behaviors (eating non-edible items) or who may be a danger to themselves by climbing or exhibiting self-injurious behavior. By having cameras, the parents can provide non-intrusive supervision at all times without having to follow their child around from room to room.
It is imperative to keep your child with special needs as safe as possible even in the comfort of your own home. Since our children tend to be very innovative, determining the appropriate safety device may take trial and error as well as testimonials from other families. If you have any other home safety products that may be valuable to a family with a child with special needs, leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com . I appreciate your feedback!