Prism: Emergency Preparedness and Other Safety Tips The National Autism Information and Resource Center

From the Director

Be Prepared

By Tonia Ferguson
Director, Autism NOW Center

I am sure everyone has heard the motto, “Be Prepared”. National disasters such as flood, fire, earthquakes, tornadoes, and even windstorms affect thousands of people every year. In these instances, you must be able to be prepared beforehand so you can protect yourself, your family, and community. Another disaster that hits home in the disability community is that of wandering and elopement. With little public understanding about autism-related wandering, coupled with a lack of resources, autism elopement remains a leading cause of fatalities among children and adults on the autism spectrum.

It’s important as a family to familiarize yourself with the dangers of wandering and elopement and prepare for the unexpected by developing a family emergency plan. The emergency plan may be different and unique for each family. However, knowing the actions to take for each emergency will impact the specific decisions and preparations you make as a family. Your emergency plan may include a first responder alert form or a wandering plan, as well as an Individual Education Program that may ensure your child’s safety outside of the home. No matter what you include in the family emergency plan, it is critical that you are preparing your family to react in an emergency.

Once you have established your family’s emergency plan, make sure your family and community members are trained and retrained in the possible emergencies they may encounter during wandering or an elopement, the emergency procedures they should follow, any first aid or rescue procedures, and the location of emergency response equipment. Emergencies in life cannot be eliminated, but if you have an emergency plan in place and have trained your family and community to respond quickly and appropriately you can optimize efficiency, relieve anxiety, and save lives.

Being prepared is just not for scouts, we owe it to our families and communities. Join us in saving lives and create your family emergency plan today. Visit for resources and information on emergency preparedness and remember: Be prepared!

From the Co-Director

Preparedness for Individuals Who Tend to Wander or Flee

By Amy Goodman
Co-Director, Autism NOW Center

When winter comes, people often try to prepare themselves for the cold weather, snow, and any potential emergencies that can go along with bad weather. Even though the season encourages us to pack survival materials into our cars in case we get stuck in a snowdrift or pack extra tissues in our pockets for colds from temperature changes, it is important to remember on emergencies may occur at any time. One emergency situation that should always be a consideration is preparedness to help ensure the safety and security of individuals who tend to wander, flee, or run. Though people often think of wandering as something that occurs during the summer, wandering can occur at any time of the year.

According to a survey conducted by the Interactive Autism Network Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, nearly half of all children with autism wander, and 25 percent of parents responded that the child went missing long enough to cause a significant safety concern. This statistic is concerning because people with Autism Spectrum Disorder who wander tend to have a higher risk of injury, trauma or death. About 66 percent of respondents to this survey said that their child had a “close call” with traffic-related injuries and 32 percent of parents said that they had a close call with a possible drowning.

Because of the higher risk of injury, trauma and death associated with wandering, it is important for loved ones of people with autism and other developmental disabilities to prepare for and plan for the possibility that your loved one may wander.

Some suggestions for planning include:

  • Securing your home with locks on exterior doors and interior doors and cabinets and/or with home security alarms;
  • Considering purchasing a tracking device that can locate individuals or ID bracelets that include important contact and medical information about your loved one;
  • Using a visual sign, like a stop sign on doors, to communicate to the person fleeing that they should stop;
  • Using social stories, schedules, modeling, signs, and other forms of teaching to help your loved one understand and know how to be safe;
  • Giving your neighbors your contact information, and explaining a loved one’s tendency to wander so that neighbors can assist in monitoring  your loved one; and
  • Providing first responders with information before a wandering incident occurs so that they may be aware of any medical, sensory, or dietary issues as well as your loved one’s likes and dislikes.

  • While these suggestions may seem drastic, wandering, fleeing, or running can occur at any time and any place; so, it is important have a comprehensive plan in order to avoid the possibility for your loved one to have trauma or injury as a result of wandering.

    For more information and suggestions on wandering or fleeing, please visit:

    Emergency Preparedness for People with Developmental Disabilities

    By Jennifer Sladen
    Program Associate, Autism NOW Center

    Here in Washington, DC, February has been relatively mild – coaxing people into a sense that the weather will stay mild and pleasant forever. So, while we are all granted a temporary reprieve from the winter weather, it is important to develop and review emergency plans when disasters – natural and otherwise – strike.

    Disasters and emergencies create challenges for all people; however, for people with autism and other developmental disabilities, emergencies may also present additional challenges to daily routines and to the ability to communicate with first responder teams. These challenges arise because emergencies often result basic services like water, gas, or electricity being cut off. Without these services, typical routines like carrying out basic personal care, eating, and using medical equipment that needs electricity become more complicated or impossible. Additionally, interacting with first responders from the community may be difficult because of a lack of knowledge on the part of the responder and/or an inability of a person with autism and other developmental disabilities to express themselves, their needs, and injuries in an emergency situation.

    As a result of these challenges, people with autism and other developmental disabilities and their families should think about planning and preparing for emergency and disaster situations. Four key steps are involved in emergency preparedness planning. These include:
    1. Finding out the types of disasters that may occur in your area, what community plans are in place in case a disaster occurs, and what types of assistance programs may be available for people with disabilities in emergencies;
    2. Developing a plan that includes preventive training and drills and visual aids for first responders and people with autism and/or other developmental disabilities so that everyone knows where to go, what to do, and how to interact during emergencies;
    3. Assembling a kit of materials – medical supplies and medicines for injuries or illness, survival materials like flashlights and blankets, and non-perishable food and distilled water - that a family or person with autism and/or other developmental disabilities may need in an emergency situation; and
    4. Maintaining your plan and supplies and reviewing the plan periodically with all family members, with trusted neighbors, and with any other person who may need to know so that everyone can help ensure that the emergency plan is followed.
    Unfortunately, even with these plans, disaster may occur. However, with planning, most of the confusion and difficulties can be overcome.

    For more detailed information about planning, safety kits, tips for what to do during disasters, check out the following websites:

    New Website Features Launched!

    By David A. Kennedy
    Online Communications Manager, Autism NOW Center

    We just rolled out two exciting new features on the site recently – a mobile version, allowing users on mobile devices like smart phones and tablets to see an optimized version of the site, and a local agencies directory in the form of a map. This mobile version lets users get to content faster on the go, and creates better accessibility overall for the site. The local agencies directory provides an easy-to-use way to find agencies in your state that can help with services, support and resources for living with autism and other developmental disabilities.

    To view the mobile version, simply visit the site ( on a smart phone or tablet – like an iPhone or iPad. To view the Local Agencies Directory, visit And keep in mind, we plan on adding more agencies to the directory. If you have a suggestion or correction, simply use the form on the page to let us know.

    The new features of the site are only the beginning in what will be a busy year for us. Other planned features include commenting on blog articles, a message board, an enhanced community calendar and new video content.

    Read the entire announcement on the new features.

    Spread Some Awareness!

    By Shelly DeButts
    Marketing Associate, The Arc

    March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month thanks to a 1987 Presidential Proclamation which was the direct result of the efforts of The Arc and other organizations dedicated to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  A lot has changed since then, more people with I/DD are living and thriving in their communities rather than institutions, there are more opportunities, more protections and more respect for and inclusion of people with I/DD in their communities. But there’s still work to be done. Let’s take advantage of March as our time to recognize the unique challenges and celebrate their unique contributions of people with I/DD. Use this month to speak up, speak out and raise some awareness in your world. Learn more about I/DD and Autism Spectrum Disorders at The Arc ( and Autism NOW Center ( and follow The Arc and Autism NOW on Facebook, Twitter (Autism NOW and The Arc) and our blogs (The Arc Blog and the Autism NOW Center Blog) during March for special posts about Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

    March Webinars

    By Jennifer Sladen
    Program Associate, Autism NOW Center

    We added the first few webinars to the schedule for March. You can view all of the upcoming webinars on the schedule page or visit our events calendar to view each one individually. This month's topics include voting, support technology and how siblings can help their family members with developmental disabilities. And remember, you can always give suggest a topic for a webinar by visiting our submit a resource form and selecting "An idea for a webinar topic."

    2012 Disability Policy Seminar Registration Now Open

    By Shelly DeButts
    Marketing Associate, The Arc
    Register now for the 2012 Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, D.C. April 23-25 and take advantage of special early registration and hotel rates until March 20. Each year hundreds of people from the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual developmental disability (I/DD) community gather in Washington, D.C. at the Disability Policy Seminar to learn about federal public policy and how it impacts people with ASD and I/DD.  Speakers that discuss these topics come from the policy experts at The Arc and five partner organizations.  Register now for the best rates and availability at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington, D.C. and find out more about this year’s program at
    Hosted by The Arc, United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), and Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) and sponsored by Hammer Travel.
    Copyright © 2012 The Arc of the United States, Inc and Autism NOW, All rights reserved.
    The Arc
    The Autism NOW Center is a national initiative of The Arc.
    The Administration on Developmental Disabilities