Keeping Children with Autism Safe

April is Autism Awareness Month. A recent study revealed that children with autism are 40 times more likely to die as the result of an injury than their peers. Veena Ahuja, M.D., gives tips on how to keep these children safe.

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CLEVELAND – According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one out of every 68 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

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A recent study revealed an alarming statistic – children with autism are 40 times more likely to die as the result of an injury than their peers.

Veena Ahuja, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, did not take part in the study, but said children with autism tend to have a higher risk of getting injured because they often have impulsive behavior.

“Children with autism have a hard time understanding the concept of safety,” said Dr. Ahuja. “They may not understand that a certain situation is dangerous or unsafe, and may rush into it without thinking.”

Researchers studied millions of records from a 15 year period and found that more than a quarter of decedents who had been diagnosed with autism died due to injury – which was three times the percentage of the general population.

Deaths that occurred as a result of drowning were most prevalent among children between the ages of five and seven years.

Dr. Ahuja said children with autism can be attracted to water for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s due to impulsive behavior, but it can also be because many children with autism are sensory-seeking. A child with autism might enjoy the feeling of water and could easily jump into a pool or a lake not knowing that it isn’t safe.

She recommends that parents who have children with autism use precautionary measures to avoid accident and injury as much as possible.

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“Some parents use devices that can help track their child so they know where they are if the child gets lost,” said Dr. Ahuja. “They may put fences around their house so that the child isn’t able to wander out into the street.”

Other safety features include putting special locks on the doors that don’t allow the child to open the door and leave on their own

Dr. Ahuja said it’s crucial for parents to talk about their child’s autism with others, so that everyone can work together to help keep the child safe. She acknowledged that many parents feel there is a stigma around autism and while it may seem difficult, talking openly about a child’s autism, especially when the child is in the care of others, will go a long way towards making sure the child is safe.

“It’s important to bring it up as often as possible,” said Dr. Ahuja. “Make sure everybody knows the child has autism – police officers in the area, your teachers, your community, your neighbors, your family and they are going to be better able to help that child be comfortable in a lot of different situations.”

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