Deadly Hurricanes and Autism
Deadly hurricanes and autism must be given great consideration in the United States as they have been severe this year. We started with Harvey, in Texas and Louisiana, and now it is just hours before Hurricane Irma attacks Florida. A hurricane is difficult for any person to deal with; however, my thoughts have been with all of the autistic people suffering from the disasters. These major storms must be very scary for someone who does not, and cannot understand what is happening in their home, in their neighborhood or in their life.
Not only is the U.S. suffering from these hurricanes, but the Caribbean, and many island countries have been hit, some to the point of being destroyed. “Autism Educates” published an article, “Preparing Your Child For A Hurricane” which offers some excellent, helpful suggestions to assist an autistic person in preparing for and experiencing a hurricane. Written by Jennifer Lingle, she proposes you first discuss what a hurricane is. Discuss the loud noises, wind and rain. You might show the person pictures or videos of what happens once it hits
It is Obvious That Something is Going On
Your loved one will certainly interpret the family by observing different behaviors. S/he may see the stress, the fear and different personality characteristics mom, dad, and sis are exhibiting. This can cause the autistic to start feeling different emotions also. This is why talking with the person, before the catastrophe, is so important. If the family has decided to stay in the home, opposed to moving to a shelter or a different city, s/he will observe chairs being moved to different locations; people moving about rapidly; a specific room being prepared for when the hurricane hits. It is important to explain the changes in this room and what is to be expected (the family will spend the dangerous hours here, sleep, eat, and basically live here). Your autistic family member may become angry, agitated or disturbed that his/her bed has been placed in the room and most of his/her belongings are not there. This is time for another discussion. It is also time to ask the person what minimum books, toys or whatever would satisfy him/her during the stay.
If you are going to a shelter your experience will be much different. You will need to prepare your loved one for the hundreds of other people who will be there. They will need to understand there will be a lot of noise which your family has no control over. They will also need to understand that there will be various people popping in and out of the shelter – this may include a TV crew to doctors or nurses, food delivery people, volunteers bringing in food, clothing and so forth. This can be a difficult situation for your loved one to deal with. All of these strangers can cause anxiety.
Lingle also suggests that you use lots of first, then statements. In other words, “First we have to hang out in the bathroom, then we can…” She also suggests you have the person assist in the hurricane preparation. Give him/her a list of things to do. This might include carrying water bottles to the “safe room,” or carrying food into this area. S/he might help gather his/her favorite objects to take to the “safe room.” There are many possibilities and it is up to you to make certain he/she is included in this process.
Explain that you will spend some of the time, most likely, living without electricity. It is important for him/her to understand how to use a flashlight, for example, in order to go to the bathroom or to search for something. It’s also calming to have the flashlight so he/she can see mom or dad when feeling a little frightened. S/he should understand information about power and how it might take hours, if not days, to restore to the home.
A hurricane is not a pleasant experience for anyone. Aside from their damage they can also cause great confusion since they often change course, lose their speed or a number of other issues. If you are in one of the countries preparing for a hurricane, good luck. If you have an autistic person with you please gain some extra patience to help him/her during this puzzling, confusing, danger. Most importantly, be as safe as you can possibly be.
Until next time – have a good day, and take great care of yourself!