In the age of school lockdown and other emergency preparedness drills, one very important topic seems to be missing: how to prepare students with cognitive disabilities for a crisis.
Explain drills through stories
Many parents raising children with special needs may not know just how much their child understands about emergency preparedness and drills. My twins, for example, who have autism, only see the good in everyone. Their world is filled with sunshine, rainbows and happiness. So how much do we tell them without inducing panic and unnecessary stress?
The best advice I can give is to create a social story. Free downloadable examples can help such as, "Why Are We Having a Lockdown Drill?" The social story gently explains why a lockdown drill is necessary and what a student needs to do. This has worked wonders with my twins.
Practice with alarm sounds
This is where the true challenge presents itself. From a sensory standpoint, drills are a nightmare! Loud noises, changes in routine — two very problematic issues for some children with special needs. Unfortunately, the reality is that these drills are necessary.
The more we practice, the more the children will understand. Talk to your child’s teacher and find out the classroom safety plan. This way, you can discuss it at home. Download the alarm sound, if possible, so you can begin to acclimate your child to the sound they will hear. Then talk about the lockdown plan for the classroom. Free downloadable examples are available.
Keep in mind that although your child may not seem to be paying attention, they are!
Other things to remember
In the event of an actual school lockdown emergency, some children with special needs may not be able to remain silent or stay in one place for an extended period. Speak with your child’s teacher about items that can be placed in the classroom safe zone, such as headphones, iPads or sensory items, that will help reduce the stress, and in turn, keep the child safe.
Practice and preparation will help everyone involved stay calm in the event of an emergency.
Candi Spitz, development manager at 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast, is the mother of twin boys who have autism.