Autism Spectrum Disorder & Preparing For A Natural Disaster

Preparing for a natural disaster can be a challenging time for a family.  This is especially true when a member of the family has autism spectrum disorder.  The following information may assist in planning ahead for this stressful time (helpful links included below):

How to talk to your child about a natural disaster:

  • If possible, it is best to talk to your child beforehand.  Start by asking probing questions about what they already know about the upcoming storm so you can understand what information they already have, and what aspects of the approaching storm they are having the most anxiety about.  
  • Provide information using as clear of language as possible.  Stick with known facts and avoid speculating.
  • Try to maintain a sense of calm when speaking to a child about the storm.  Remind your child the steps that are being taken to ensure their safety including local and national resources that are in place to protect everyone.
  • Recognize and respond to the emotions they are feeling.  Provide empathy and understanding to signs of fear and sadness to help the child understand that those normal emotions to experience during times of loss.
  • Be prepared for changes in your child’s behavior including behaviors that they exhibited in the past.  Often children react to stressful events by experiencing a temporary regression in their skills/behavior.  This can be a natural part of their reaction to stress and should be treated with calmness and sensitivity.
  • Many children with Autism, especially those with low or little verbal language, may do best with a social story. Here is a link to a social story created by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders
  • Sesame Street has created several helpful videos and a printable resource for helping children (and parents), understand and cope with the storm and its aftermath.
  • Additional resources are available at the Autism Speaks website: Click here.

How to manage big changes in schedule/what do I do if I need to evacuate or relocate:

  • Be sure to remember all important documents such as medical records and IEPs.  Also it is recommended to try to bring three weeks worth of medication if you are relocating.
  • Bring any assistive communication devices and charges.  
  • Keep handwritten lists of important information such as emergency contacts, behavioral plans, and other documents that may be necessary.
  • As much as possible, attempt to keep portions of your family’s typical routine.  Any semblance of normalcy can help during this time. If you have visual schedules, those may also be helpful to have to on hand to foster a sense of normalcy.
  • Pack preferred activities, sensory objects, and typical reinforcers.  Fun activities and sensory play can be used as a distraction from the events unfolding around your child and can also help instill a sense of normalcy.  Having preferred objects can reduce stress related to fear of losing favorite possessions as well.
  • Headphones and/or earplugs may be extremely helpful to block out loud noises associated with the storm or for use if going to a shelter.  

The ABS team cares about the safety of our clients, their families, and our employees. Please be on the lookout for communication from your consultants & therapists regarding possible cancellations, and opportunities to reschedule sessions. Stay safe, everyone!