A tip or two: Expecting the unexpected

Many years ago, when our son on the autism spectrum was a small boy, our family had to evacuate for an oncoming hurricane. It only took that one disruption to make us realize that we had only ourselves to look to in planning for the unexpected. Short of ranting at God for the unfairness of this disruption in routine, there was nobody to blame!

People with ASD generally prefer routines. Routines help them in dealing with a bewildering, neurotypical world. But, even those of us who are neurotypical are often comforted by routine. The other children in our family benefited from the development of a routine for the unexpected power outages, storms, and evacuations which we developed for Jacob.

We learned to keep a bag (you can also use a waterproof box) which only came out of its hiding place when the power went out. We filled it with high-interest items our son didn’t see at any other time. It took a few outages before he caught on that they could be fun: after that, we found that he became very calm even if it was very dark. Some of the items in the box included flashlights and glow sticks, toys with his favorite characters on them, and a handheld, battery operated game system with lots of batteries. We had to be very strict about this; when the power came back on, everything went back into the box and we went right back to our regular routines, games, and toys.

Our hurricane preparedness was an extension of that concept. Whenever there was even a chance of a hurricane heading our way, we made reservations (without telling our sons) at the SAME motel inland. It is easy to remember to cancel a reservation if you don’t end up needing it, and terrific to have some routine place to depend upon in the instance of evacuation. Each family member had an underbed storage box with items in it which made it possible to evacuate quickly. We included all of the above items (although they had to be different ones, including a different handheld game system with different games) plus clothes, a preferred blanket and pillow, and other comfort items.

One thing which helped immensely when it came to implementing both of the above plans was practice. We did a couple of “evacuations” to prepare for that time when we might have to. Since my husband was a first responder and generally had to work evacuations, I did this myself with the children. It isn’t a lot of fun, but it sure did help when the time came for actual emergencies. We also had to practice power outages with Daddy home, and Daddy away, and Mommy home and away. My advice is, be proactive. Prepare. And, make sure you get a box ready for you, too; with plenty of flashlights and batteries, and books, cds and headphones–any items which help you stay calm, in control, and the responsible parent you are.

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