By Elayne Pearson, Special Needs Preparedness Specialist – Author/Life Coach/Motivational Speaker
It’s dawn. The sun sprinkles glorious golden bronze glitter on the navy blue ocean out beyond our little time-share balcony, or lanai, as they call it here in Hawaii. My husband, Rod, and I love the Islands, because they transport and replenish us. We love the cultures, foods, and people here.
I’m supposed to relax, but it’s kind of hard, because for over 25 years on any vacation with Heidi, our beautiful daughter with Down syndrome and late-onset autism, it honestly was not relaxing for our family. We had to watch her constantly. Thank goodness (out of real desperation) I searched and gradually found drug-free solutions to calm her accelerated central nervous system and level out her baffling emotions.
While sipping my peppermint tea to lesson jet-lag, I ponder how life challenges have put us on a path to serve and strengthen others, and I feel peace. Herbal tea is just one benefit I learned because of Heidi. It’s calming and creates a healthy clarity for me. Our family discovered Mother Nature truly provides the perfect prescription for our health and wellbeing.
Two decades hand-in-hand with autism has sparked a passion in me to share preparedness tips, tools, and techniques for parents and others who work with people with special needs. Our family was frequently in “emergency mode.” We had to be prepared for Heidi’s many unexpected responses to things around her and protect her from her own lack of knowledge, and impulsivity in response of her overly heightened senses and more. We learned tons from our experiences and thankfully survived “Hurricane Heidi.”
Yesterday on the radio of our rental car we heard updates about an actual Hurricane headed to these Islands, and I knew we could be in peril, but I wasn’t afraid. I recalled our first emergency experience here with Hurricane Iniki in 1992, when we splurged for our 14th wedding anniversary, and stayed on Oahu. We were terrified that four daughters at home—ranging from ages four to 12—could become orphans. Thankfully we survived the week without harm. Countless tourists on Kauai were stranded for 3 weeks from wide-spread damages, including the airport.
Hurricane Iniki blew our vacation plans, yet lit a fire in us to become better prepared for any natural disaster or emergency. Little by little we began. Over the years, when teaching moments came I tried to help our girls think proactively and creatively and say, “If that bad thing happened here, these creative options are how we’ll help it turn out good. We can handle this!” Today, our neuro-typical daughters are happy wives and capable mothers, raising beautiful families, and Miss Heidi is doing great in her Host Home program.
So with a powerful storm headed our way, I’m choosing proactivity and sharing some helpful observations and tips, because you never know when and where an emergency will strike. The key? KEEP IT UP!
TEAM UP ~ Earlier Rod and I enjoyed chatting with our friendly shuttle driver, Johnny, and our bellman, Loton. Statistics indicate people who are connected before a disaster fare better during it, and afterwards, too. Let’s get to know everyone at work, church, and in the neighborhood, because together, you can team up to help save lives and salvage property.
LINK UP ~ Experiencing Hurricane Iniki was a wake-up call for us as parents, and we officially asked Rod’s brother and his wife to raise our precious daughters, should we pass on, plus be legal guardians for Miss Heidi after she turned 18. Decide on a “Plan B” in your own life.
SHIELD UP ~ Here in Hawaii, they have laws protecting turtles and sea lions, we, too, need to watch out and protect fragile people with disabilities and special needs in the event of a fire, earthquake, or flooding. Please create safety plans in your realm for this vulnerable and valuable part of our population.
GEAR UP ~ Like a typical woman, my purse is actually a stylish survival bag. I’ve always have a variety of things to be prepared like pens, small notebook, tissues, small knife, and nail clippers. Some coins and cash are needed when machines can’t scan “plastic.” I always have water and healthy snacks like raisins, almonds, or granola bars with me. For wounds I have band-aids and tiny bottles of essential oil. Being prepared feels great.
FILL UP ~ Water is the MOST vital survival resource. Think hydration, cooking, washing wounds, and cleaning up. I recall filling our motel bathtub during Hurricane Iniki. At home, we have several large water containers.
SWAP UP ~ Teach children there are options right before our eyes when we think creatively. Some substitutes: a penny becomes a screwdriver and dental floss has multiple uses.
GATHER UP ~ Our time-share kitchen has a broom plus a carpet sweeper. Excellent. Now is the time to gather non-electric tools, like manual can openers.
PLUG UP ~ Foam Ear plugs from our plane ride helps with sleep. But I’ll keep them in my emergency backpack for those with sensitive hearing issues to muffle noise during a disaster.
CUT UP– I love paper towels and wet wipes, but after a disaster, they run out quickly. T-shirts to the rescue! So versatile, they can strain water, become a clean bandage wrap, a general cleaning rag, tie a splint and more. They can be easily cut into squares or torn and are soft to the skin. If Heidi was with us during a natural disaster and had an “accident” in her pants (not unusual with intense fright) I could use our soft t-shirt cloths to help clean her up.
LIGHT UP ~ Our cute little washer/dryer combo at the time-share had another useful preparedness item, in the dryer lint trap. It’s fire kindling. If Rod needed to start a small fire outside and there were no dry leaves or twigs, lint is fire tinder, and it’s free and easy.
EAT UP ~ When the power is out, we must find alternative ways to cook and keep food safe. Luckily there is fishing, farms, fruit trees, and berry bushes here.
OPEN UP ~ Hawaiians have big, open hearts and their kind aloha spirit truly exemplifies the attitude we all need in a disaster or wartime, or really every day.
After the storm passed by some folks relaxing by the pool said, “Oh, I could live here forever! Right? It’s perfect!” I agreed. However, I realized it may even be the worst-case scenario, and we really could survive and thrive here. Let’s keep it up!
Special Needs Preparedness Specialist, Elayne Pearson, has decades of commitment to the Disability Community as an advocate, author, and columnist. Pearson is a certified Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and presents at various Preparedness Events. She is excited to be working towards credentials with IBCCES for her Autism Certificate. To invite Elayne to speak in your area, email [email protected] This article may be copied, with attributes to author.