Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Dangers of Autism


               We’re moving to a new house soon. We’ve already paid the deposit and signed the lease, we just aren’t quite able to afford to move yet, due to some extenuating circumstances. In addition to renting a moving van, we also have to install some safety features in our new house before we can move in.

                This is rather scary for me, because there are a lot of hidden dangers when you have a child with autism. It sounds paranoid to most people, but you literally have to worry about almost everything. For example: The place we’re moving to is a two-story house. All the bedrooms are upstairs. Windows are a huge safety concern. Braeden, my six-year-old, wouldn’t give a second thought to leaning up against a window screen, whether it be on the first floor or the thirty-first floor. In our new house, his bedroom window is a straight drop to the packed-dirt driveway. So I need to buy and install window guards – not just on Braeden’s bedroom window, but on all the upstairs windows. I have to assume that he’ll at some point or another get into one of the other two bedrooms up there, so all the windows have to be secured. All it would take is forgetting to lock the door one time for him to go in, lean against an open window, and fall. 
                Then there’s the staircase. It’s difficult to describe, but basically the stairs go straight up, and there’s a railing between the stairs and the upstairs hall. This railing is just about knee-high to me. In other words, the perfect height for Braeden to try to climb up and sit on. That may sound like a silly concern – really, what kid is going to sit on a railing with a ten- or twelve-foot drop on the other side? My kid, that’s who. So I have to figure out some way of making that railing extend all the way to the ceiling, so Braeden won’t try to sit on or climb over it and end up falling over. 
                The new house has a garbage disposal. Fortunately, the switch is in the cabinet under the sink, so that just means installing a clasp and padlock on that cabinet door so Braeden can’t open it. Because he wouldn’t think twice about turning the disposal on and then sticking his hand down the hole. He just doesn’t understand that it would hurt him.
                Electrical outlets are a little bit more complicated, because he’s old enough, dexterous enough, and clever enough to know how to pull those little plastic outlet covers off. He’s never messed with the outlets in our current house, but he showed way too much interest in the ones at the new place when we were there. Hopefully Home Depot sells something a little more secure than plastic outlet covers – otherwise, those little boxes that can go over thermostat controls and need a key to unlock will probably work. (And some people might be tempted to say, “Well, just watch your kid, make sure he doesn’t stick things in the outlet!” Easier said than done – this is a kid who can hurt himself if you take your eyes off of him for five seconds. Heaven forbid you have to use the bathroom while also caring for him). I also have to consider the possibility he’ll try to climb the built-in shelves in his new room and end up falling, or try to climb a bookcase that I haven’t secured to the wall while we’re still moving in.
                The doors to the outside world are also an issue. Braeden knows how to unlock deadbolts, chains, and hook-and-eye closures, but he doesn’t know that it’s dangerous to walk into the middle of the road with cars coming. Our new place is also only a block and a half from the lake, and I can’t predict whether or not he’d try to go into the water (assuming he made it that far without another danger getting him). Fortunately there are relatively cheap alarm systems you can put on doors that’ll go off when the door is opened. Until he learns how to disable the alarm (which will happen sooner rather than later), he usually stays away from the doors, because he knows the alarm will go off if he opens it. And when he DOES try to open a door, I know right away because of the noise. The only real concern there is if he leaves his room in the middle of the night and tries to go outside – in our new house, with all the bedrooms being upstairs, there’s some distance between where I’ll be sleeping and where the doors leading outside are. I’ll have to make sure the alarms are loud enough to wake me up if I’m upstairs sleeping and the downstairs doors are opened.
                 
There are a million other safety concerns that I either haven’t mentioned yet or haven’t thought of yet. I have a couple of friends meeting me at the new place tomorrow to help me inspect and come up with solutions for safety issues. I’ve asked Braeden’s teacher to go through the house with me as well; I figure a special education teacher will have some ideas on how to make things safe for a child with special needs. Obviously constant supervision and vigilance is going to be the number one safety precaution, but no parent can possibly keep an eye on their children twenty-four hours a day. I have to sleep occasionally, if nothing else. I’ve actually lain awake nights worrying about how I’m going to keep my child safe, and then had nightmares about failing at that task when I finally do fall asleep.
I applied for a grant through Autism Speaks to help cover the costs of making our new home safe for Braeden, but there’s no telling how long it will take for them to make a decision. Somehow I have to come up with the money to purchase and install all of these safety features in addition to covering regular bills and renting a moving truck. Somehow I have to keep Braeden safe while everyone’s busy loading and unloading the truck once we get it. I need to meet the new neighbors and let them know what to do if Braeden ever does manage to get out of the house and they see him wandering around. Since he’s nonverbal, he won’t be able to answer if someone asks him who he is and where he lives. He usually doesn’t respond to someone calling his name, either. I have to print out flyers with his information and our contact information on them to give to local law enforcement, again, just in case he ever manages to get past all the security precautions. People underestimate how clever Braeden is – just because he doesn’t talk doesn’t mean he isn’t amazingly bright in some ways, especially when it comes to figuring out how to get past childproofing measures. I’ve been calling him my little Houdini for years, because he’s always eventually managed to figure out how to get around every single thing I’ve done to try to keep him safe. 
This will all work out somehow. Somehow I will find the funds to rent a moving truck. Somehow I’ll keep Braeden safe and secure while that truck is being loaded and unloaded. Somehow I will come up with the money to keep my child safe in our new home. Somehow I’ll figure out a way to stay one or two steps ahead of him when autism-proofing the house. I don’t know HOW exactly yet, but this is what I have to do as Braeden’s mom. There’s just no other option.

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