Serving the Autism Community during an adverse weather event and in recovery has problems that can be easily solved but would require collaborative partnerships with both government agencies and NGOs. To address some immediate concerns as Hurricane Harvey bears down, below are steps that could be achieved quickly ahead of this storm.
- PREFERRED PLACEMENT IN HOTELS: Instruct Emergency personnel including FEMA, Red Cross and temporary shelters (like churches) to help families living with autism to receive preferential treatment for placement in hotel rooms that are safe and quiet for the impacted family member OR in quiet, secure rooms within the sheltered area. Once our families are in a quiet place where they can prevent elopement, they are often resilient enough to begin recovery. Our community will surround and support them through this. We found that families living with autism requiring sheltering assistance were often severely impacted from a socio-economic standpoint – and will be especially at the end of the month as happened with Hurricane Katrina and will not have reserves of money to pay for hotel stays.
- PREFERRED TYPE OF HOTEL ROOM: It is helpful, if at all possible, to locate them in hotels with micro-kitchens as their children/individuals often have specific dietary requirements and providing stability in that area will further help these families maintain a semblance of peace in the aftermath to improve recovery efforts.
- HELPFUL ITEMS FOR SHELTERS: Louisiana Dept of Child and Family Services has a stockpile of weighted blankets and noise canceling headphones. Encourage collaborative efforts between these two states to share these precious resources to help calm individuals in shelters. Our organization is already working with the suppliers we had last year to increase production so we can help the children in Texas.
- COLLABORATION BETWEEN RECOVERY OFFICIALS & LOCAL AUTISM COMMUNITY GROUPS: We are developing a list of groups local to each state that would be willing to help identify families and also help assist them afterwards through their special recovery process.
- EMERGENCY RESPONSE PERSONNEL BRIEFING: Rescue and recovery officials should be briefed on this specific population and their potential behaviors. When possible, allow family members to assist with evacuating these individuals from homes/cars because they know how to best motivate them, help them feel safe and communicate effectively.
- SPECIAL HAZARDS FOR THIS POPULATION: Officials should be aware that children and individuals with autism are drawn to water, which almost always leads to drowning deaths. Families, shelter officials and emergency responders should be alert for elopement as distraction from the individual’s caregiver is imminent. Individuals with autism also often do not respond to verbal commands or to their names being called and can be aggressive. Being prepared for this ahead of time will help emergency responders work more quickly.
Thank you for taking care of our special families!