To Members of the Autism Community in Texas/Louisiana Impacted by Harvey:

SAFETY IS JOB #1: This is an active event. Dangerous flooding is still possible and water may rise through early next week. Pay attention to river crest levels and check to ensure your family is at an elevation above those levels. You can find your current sea level elevation here. Residents will continue to see extensive rainfall. Safety is Job #1 for you and your families.  Do your best to get into a safe, quiet place as quickly as possible. If you do not have natural supports where you can evacuate to be with family or friends, get into a hotel room as quickly as possible.
Please be alert and guard against distraction.  Wandering and elopement are especially dangerous in our community right now due to high flood waters.
Emergency officials and Unlocking Autism volunteers will triage individuals in this order SAFETY, SHELTER, FOOD/WATER, CLOTHING, MEDICINE (unless it is life sustaining medication).

Please continue to register families of kids with ASD hereWe have people on standby that can help them and counsel with them and pray with them and help them calm down.  Other moms who know what this is like.


Critical Needs Assessment:  FEMA may provide financial assistance to individuals and households who, as a result of the disaster, have immediate or critical needs because they are displaced from their primary dwelling. Immediate or critical needs are life-saving and life-sustaining items including, but not limited to: water, food, first aid, prescriptions, infant formula, diapers, consumable medical supplies, durable medical equipment, personal hygiene items, and fuel for transportation. Critical Needs Assistance (CNA) is awarded under the Other Needs Assistance provision of the Individuals and Households Program (IHP) and is subject to a state cost share. It is a one-time $500 payment per household. The State must request that FEMA authorize CNA in a disaster for specific geographic areas that are expected to be inaccessible for an extended period of time (i.e., seven days or longer). The eligibility period for CNA corresponds to the standard registration period for IHP, which is 60 days from the date of the Presidential disaster declaration.

Individuals and households may be eligible for CNA if all of the following have been met:

  • A registration is completed with FEMA;
  • The applicant passes identity verification;
  • At registration, the applicant asserts that they have critical needs and requests financialassistance for those needs and expenses;
  • Their pre-disaster primary residence is located in a county that is designated for CNA; an
  • The applicant is displaced from their pre-disaster primary residence as a result of the disaster.


Transitional Shelter Assistance:  FEMA may provide Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) to applicants who are unable to return to their pre-disaster primary residence because their home is either unihabitaable or inaccessible due to a Presidentially-declared disaster. TSA is intended to reduce the number of disaster survivors in congregate shelters by transitioning survivors into short-term accomodations through direct payments to lodging providers. TSA does not count toward an applicant’s maximum amount of assistance available under the Individuals and Households Program (IHP).

TSA is funded under Section 403 of the Stafford Act and is subject to a state cost-share. The State may request that FEMA authorize the use of TSA for the declared disaster in specific geographic areas.

The affected state, territorial, or tribal government may request TSA. This form of assistance may be considered when the scale and projected duration of the declared incident results in an extended displacement of disaster survivors. The state, territorial, or tribal government, in coordination with FEMA, identifies areas that are inaccessible or that incurred damage which prevents disaster survivors from returning to their pre-disaster primary residence for an extended period of time.

Under TSA, disaster survivors may be eligible to stay in an approved hotel or motel for a limited period of time and have the cost of the room and taxes covered by FEMA. For those who are eligible, FEMA will authorize and fund, through direct payments to participating hotels/ motels, the use of hotels/motels as transitional shelters.  The applicant is responsible for all other costs associated with lodging and amenities, including, but not limted to  incidental room charges or amenities, such as telephone, room service, food, etc.

The initial period of assistance will be 5-14 (adjustable to 30 days, if needed) days from date of TSA implementation. FEMA, in conjunction with the state, territorial, or tribal government, may extend this period of assistance, if needed,  in 14-day intervals for up to six months from the date of disaster declaration.

Individuals and households who are not eligible for TSA will be referred to local agencies or voluntary organizations for possible assistance.

Individuals and households may be eligible for TSA, if:

  • Register with FEMA for assistance
  • Pass identity and citizenship verification
  • Their pre-disaster primary residence is located in a geographic area that is designated for TSA
  • As a result of the disaster, they are displaced from their pre-disaster primary residence
  • They are unable to obtain lodging through another source

FEMA provides eligible applicants access to a list of approved hotels in their area, and applicants may choose to stay at any approved hotel or facility identified by FEMA. The list of approved hotels is available at or the FEMA Helpline. FEMA provides applicants with access and functional needs additional assistance in locating approved hotels to meet their needs.

FEMA bases the amount of TSA on the maximum lodging rate plus taxes for the locality, as identified by the General Services Administration (GSA).

Extending TSA

When FEMA extends TSA eligible applicants are allowed to remain in transitional sheltering through the end of the extended interval if they are otherwise eligible for IHP Assistance, or both

of the following apply:

  • FEMA is currently considering the applicant’s eligibility for Temporary Housing Assistance or is waiting for documentation from the applicant needed to consider eligibility
  • They meet other conditions of eligibility established by FEMA and the coordinating state, territorial, or tribal government

Ending TSA

  • If an applicant who is receiving TSA is approved for Rental Assistance, their TSA-eligibility will terminate at the end of the 14-day interval.
  • Applicants who are not eligible for IHP Assistance may only remain in transitional sheltering until their TSA interval expires.


FEMA Shares Hurricane Harvey Resources for Texas Survivors, Volunteers:





FEMA Registration: 800-621-3362/TTY:

Help Hurricane Harvey ASD Families

 Unlocking Autism is calling on all levels of political leadership and our community to assist with families and individuals with autism impacted by Hurricane Harvey and the floods.  Since Hurricane Katrina hit twelve years ago, we have worked to help our families in the aftermath of natural disasters because this is a special population with special needs. We want to ensure our families are not turned away from shelters or asked to leave as has happened in the past and left to ride out the aftermath in their cars or sheds.

The best way the community can help right now is to pass immediate recovery recommendations to political officials and to spread the word about assistance.  Unlocking Autism is collecting donations, which are tax deductible as we are a registered 501c3.  Donations collected through September 30th, 2017 will go completely to our families in need. We have no employees and no significant overhead costs.

Here is how you can help:

  1. CONTACT YOUR POLITICAL LEADERSHIP: Alert your own local political officials about the need to include special populations with regard to an #ASDPlan and ask them to do what they can to help spread the word through leadership.
  2. MAKE A DONATION: Priority right now will be to collect funds to provide families with WalMart or Amazon gift cards so they can get the items they need as fast as possible specific to the needs of their child or individual living with autism.  Those are all unique as you may imagine so this is the best thing to do at this stage of the event.  As the event continues to unfold, check back because people’s needs will change but families are scattered right now.  The time will come when we need care packages and other donations but for now this is the best way to help.  Our goal is to provide families in need with at least a $250 gift card to get started. You can make your donation here.

    If you specifically make a donation of $65.00, that will be a signal to us to order a weighted blanket for a child.  We are partnering with the same company we worked with last year to get these to comfort our community kids!

  3. FIND OUR FAMILIES: Check on families that you know in Texas and Louisiana that are in the path of the storm.  Have them register with us. We have volunteers on standby to call them and assess their need. They can register easily here.

  4. STAND READY: What we learned here in Baton Rouge last year is that there is a whole country and community of people to love one another.  Last year was clearly a dress rehearsal for this event this year.  Pray for our people. We know God tells us that He will be with us when, not if, the water comes up to our neck.  Pray for their protection and safety. Pray for their swift recovery and provision.  Stay alert for notices as they come and move when you see them.

We are a family.  We fight and we fuss and we are all stressed but our families in Texas and Louisiana need us to be there for them now.  Working together as one – in one body – we will be able to accomplish so much and be a huge blessing to families who need us today…and in the future.

All of our love,

Together we are all Unlocking Autism



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!  

President Trump – About Disasters & Autism

August 28, 2017
President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

RE: Hurricane Harvey & the Autism Community

Dear President Trump:

We thank you all for what you do every day to help run our country. We know it is a huge job and people don’t often return with thanks. We are grateful that you listen to your people beyond the beltway.

Last year, when you came to Louisiana to survey damage from our historic flooding here in Baton Rouge, I met you at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church. I spoke with Vice President Pence for several minutes to discuss our very specific concerns regarding the unique disaster rescue and recovery needs of our special needs populations – whether they are children or adults with autism or individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Louisiana’s Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser was with you that day and has come to know us as well.


Our families living with autism were repeatedly turned away, or ejected, from shelters due to adverse behaviors exhibited by their children. One of the largest shelters told me personally, “We do not take people like that.” They were living in cars and sheds because it was more manageable than trying to care for their children living with autism in a large congregational setting. This put the children directly in harm’s way but alternatives were scarce.

Unlocking Autism stepped out in faith, raised money, found our families, and helped them find stabilized shelter. Then, we cared for them until they were back on their feet. We learned valuable lessons that your administration may need in the recovery efforts. Here is a video to explain our families stories.

I appeal to you to help provide our autism community in Texas with top down direction for simple steps that will improve their recovery efforts. The need is massive. Each Congressional district impacted could have as many as 3200 children under the age of 21 with autism, which leaves a huge number of our people, at least 64,000 families, in an even more difficult situation.

This may 15 times what we witnessed with our families in South Louisiana. Our organization will not be able to handle it alone, but we stand ready to help hold their hands.

Congregational shelters, whether open to anyone or segregated for special medical needs, are incredibly difficult for our specific population to navigate. Families already suffering from PTSD stress levels and no sleep are further traumatized at times like this making wandering and other adverse behaviors worse and more dangerous. No one likes congregational shelters, but they are overwhelmingly difficult for our families and for other shelter residents.

This is a problem that can be easily solved, but requires a partnership with leadership and groups familiar with this unique circumstance. Enclosed are some suggested steps that could be taken, and if these can be achieved, our group will make every effort to disseminate appropriate information to TX and LA residents, and collaborating autism NGOs, to help with the recovery process.

On Friday, August 25th, this information was sent to the Texas Congressional delegation, the Governor of Texas, the Louisiana Secretary of Department of Child & Family Services (who helped us so much last year) and my Congressman – Congressman Garret Graves (LA-6) – to try to get ahead of the storm. Last year, Congressman Graves and his wife came to my house to learn more about how we were helping our special families. He invited me to attend a dinner with several Congressmen, including Congressman Brian Babin (TX-36) – whose district is now impacted by Harvey – so that everyone could learn of our experiences and no community would forget the least of these when, not if, this happened again.

Last year was apparently a dress rehearsal.

We will always encourage our families to seek shelter with other family members or friends first wherever natural support are available. This request is specifically designed for those families who have no other alternatives and we can help shelters establish screening protocols to prevent people who would have other resources available to them from taking advantage of a hotel stay that another family would need.

Unlocking Autism has worked with hundreds of families across the country living with autism over the last 12 years through the rescue/recovery process following natural disasters since Hurricane Katrina sounded the alarm for us. Our immediate hope, and primary concern, is to help our families get out of harm’s way so they don’t have to live in their vehicles or sheds in their backyard until their homes can be repaired like our families had to do here last year.

Here are some things the government can do to help our families living with autism – quickly.

I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. While we didn’t know when we met you and Vice President Pence last year that this storm would bear down on our country, God did. He prepared us for such a time as this. Bad things happen in this broken world, but He positions people to be able to safeguard against them and take care of His children.

Please do not let our people with autism fall through the cracks of recovery efforts. He has given us an opportunity to learn from the mistakes on such a wide scale way that it hopefully this become part of the permanent protocol. With one in 68 children diagnosed, it must be.

God has also given our country the opportunity to truly be our brother’s keeper. Apathy is as bad as hate and it is hard to understand this level of devastation without experiencing it personally. Racial division and socio-economic disparity dissolve in flood waters which equalize everything and everyone. Help this country hold onto the love and compassion they feel right now and turn in repentance to both God and their fellow man.

Thank you for your consideration and for everything you do every day to lead us and protect us.

We stand ready.

With kindest regards,

Shelley Hendrix
Unlocking Autism/President