Keeping Kids with Special Needs Safe

by Robert A. Gehring

Kids SafetyKids can be adventurous. They climb, dig, touch, taste and explore. While it isn't possible to prevent every accident or worrisome situation for our kids, there's plenty of places we do have control over -- our homes, cars and play areas.

According to the CDC, keeping babies and kids in the right car seats reduced the risk of death by 71 percent for babies and by 54 percent for toddlers and preschoolers. Using childproof caps and keeping medicines out of the reach of curious fingers could help prevent some of the more than 60,000 cases of medication poisonings each year. Keeping your child safe doesn't have to be complicated, unless your child has special needs.

Children with special needs tend to have more accidents. This means your list of safety precautions could be special as well.

Does your child wander off? Is your child non-verbal? Would the fire alarm be unheard? Would hitting a hard surface cause injury? Your child's unique condition can help you pinpoint the areas where you need to take extra precautions.

Keeping Safe at Home

Walk through your home, including the kitchen and bathroom. In addition to the regular safety precautions, these suggestions can help your special child be safe.

Toy Safety

Find toys geared to your child's developmental abilities that are sturdy and interesting. These helpful hints can help you choose a toy your child can enjoy safely.

  • Visually-impaired children's toys should have different shapes and textures, realistic sounds and large parts.
  • Hearing-impaired children's toys should have bold colors and amplified volumes with different sounds and vibrations.
  • Physically-impaired children's toys should be easy to maneuver, sturdy with large handles and easy to operate.

Fire Precautions

Being aware of and knowing how to react in an emergency situation can be challenging for a special-needs kid. Mark exits with cues your child understands and practice your fire alarm drill regularly. Your whole family will be familiar with the routine and more comfortable in the event of an actual fire.

If your child isn't able to rely on the warning sound of a fire alarm, install a vibrating or flashing fire alarm on each level of your home.

Contact the fire department and let them know a child with special-needs lives in the home in case a crisis arises. Officials will know ahead of time to bring specific equipment if needed.

Car Safety

Many children with special needs can use standard child restraints such as infant-only seats, convertible seats, forward-facing seats and restraints or belt-positioning booster seats.

Other children might require a restraint system that fits around casts or allows your child to lay down. Are you transporting a budding escape artist? Your car seat might need a floor-mounted strap.

Talk with your child's doctor or therapist about unique transportation requirements. Any changes in a car restraint needs to be crash-tested before use.

Playground Safety

Every child loves heading out to the park with a sack lunch and a friend. Your child does, too. You might have to talk with your therapists, teachers, doctors and other care providers about your child's unique needs. Ask other parents for inclusive play ideas. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Supervise at all times. Join right in the fun and keep an eye out for difficult or dangerous situations. An aid, a trained teen helper or even a buddy might make play time even more fun for your child.

Play on developmentally appropriate equipment Look for playgrounds with separate equipment for children at different developmental levels. Your child might enjoy an area where he or she can slide, crawl or scoot around. Parents suggest that you bring along sand toys, truck or other playthings for your child or for your child to share with other kids.

Safe surfaces. Good surfaces have wood chips, mulch, sand, pea gravel or rubber mats. Some areas have playgrounds accommodate children with special challenges. If your child requires help walking or requires soft surfaces, look around and ask other parents.

Safe equipment. Check that the equipment is anchored safely and in good working order.

Playground checklist:

  • Children in wheelchairs can move around on the playground surface or path to the play area.
  • Ramps have wheel stops and guardrails.
  • Different developmental levels have separate equipment.
  • Adults can help children play on the equipment.
  • The openings on play platforms are narrow.
  • There are hands-on areas for children in wheelchairs.

Is Your Child Autistic or Cognitively Challenged?

Some special-needs children tend to wander off. Others don't respond to their names when called. Some might be too trusting of strangers. Many of these children sleep poorly which means they'll be awake at night when the rest of the household sleeps. Whatever the issue, keeping your child safe can be a challenge given these circumstances.

Playing It Safe

All children tend to be reactive. If a ball rolls into the street, they are apt to run after it without thinking of the dangers. Kids with autism might have a more obvious "leap before you look" behavior. This impulsive behavior can put the child in a risky situation. These ideas and tips can help you stay a step ahead and prevent a dart out the door, a jump from a high place or any other dangerous situation.

  • Think like your child. Put yourself in your child's place. Let your inner curious and impetuous self loose. Which things draw your attention? How could you better explore? Then use this information to see what might trigger your child's risky behavior.
  • Install door and window alarms. Commercial entry alarms allow staff to know when customers enter or leave a store. The same alerts can be used by parents to keep a tab on children who tend to wander off.
  • Teach basic safety commands (if possible). Your child might have trouble understanding what do to in an emergency situation. Teach basic words like "stop" and "hold my hand." Say the word or use a sign or gesture to communicate. Then practice together just what action that word mean. You might say, "sit." Then you and your child both sit down. Practice simple safety phrases regularly.

    If you are a parent or caregiver of a special-needs child, have you discovered a specific routine or product that helps keep your child safe? We'd like to hear what you have to say!


LauraSP's picture

Submitted by LauraSP on

These are great tips. As the mom of a child with Down syndrome, keeping him safe is an extra challenge. Although 11, our house is secured like "Fort Knox" as he has no sense of danger. He is a charming but overly trusting little guy so between the fact that he wanders coupled with his being non-verbal and adventuresome, safety is a big concern!