Children with autism are slightly more prone to injuries than children in the general population and those with non-ASD-related developmental delays - as found in a recent study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Specific factors leading to this higher rate include hyperactivity, anxiety, cognitive delays affecting causal reasoning and sensory issues. If you are a parent of an autistic child, injury prevention begins with identifying the biggest risks so you can successfully reduce the dangers of each one.
The most common types of injuries in children with autism include open wounds and fractures. The head region is particularly at risk since about 50% of injuries occur in this part of the body. Around one-fifth of injuries, meanwhile, occur in upper extremities. The most common cause of injuries are falls, which account for over half of all injuries. Other common causes include bumping into a thing or person or being struck.
Researchers found that injury rates increase when behavioral or attention-deficit/hyperactivity is present. Therefore, parents should have a strategy in place for when a child is showing these behaviors. Tapping devices - also known as EMDR buzzers or EMDR pulsers, are a powerful way to bring a child’s attention to ‘the present moment’ - or, to be more precise, to the present activity. This technology requires children to look back and forth at EMDR tappers in their hands, which call their attention to one hand or the other. The movement of the eyes to one side and another boosts focus, but also calms children and can, therefore, help them avoid falls or other injuries that can occur when they are hyperactive.
Keen observations of the situations in which a child falls or bumps into items in the home is key in order to build a personalized strategy. Sometimes, a child may feel pain from issues such as stiff muscles but lack the means to communicate this to their parents. If a child frequently has stress-related neck or back pain, vibrating technology can loosen stiff muscles that can cause children to ‘act up,’ as well as promoting mindfulness. You can either use power plates at the gym or a personal vibrating foam roller. This targets specific muscle groups and is effective at muscle relaxation.
Home safety is one of the most important areas to address in order to reduce falls and injuries. Homes should bear a clean, minimalist design and should be maintained in a clean and uncluttered state. Sharp and toxic objects should be kept in childproof storage, or under lock and key if necessary, to avoid cuts and lacerations. If children wander, an alarm system can be set up to advise parents if a child has wandered. Some children with autism have pica (compulsive eating of substances other than standard food items) so be careful about leaving items such as detergent and baking soda within their reach. Finally, purchase a child locator you can place in your child’s shoe or in an accessory they love to wear.
The difference in the injury rate between autistic children and their peers is small but significant. Studies show that the main problems are falls, which can be caused by a variety of factors, including hyperactivity. Parents seeking to lower fall risks should consider special gates or barriers in staircases, simple and clean home design, and a storage system that prevents children from reaching potentially dangerous items and substances.
*This blog post was written by Lucy Wyndam.
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