By Elayne Pearson, Special Needs Safety/Preparedness Specialist
With temperatures over 100 degrees in much of the United States, most families are challenged simply keeping everyone comfortable, hydrated, and content. Then, if you add into a household the mix of individuals affected by autism, with their tendencies to be overly-sensitive to temperatures, frustration when routine is disrupted, and struggles with impulsivity—August can be a very tricky month for everyone. This was too true for our family when Heidi and her three older sister were growing up. With her dual-diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, she was cute as a pixie, but often kept us on high-alert, (or “Heidi-alert”). I recall countless summer vacations, where it sure didn’t feel like a vacation.
The initial elation of feeling free from school, schedules, sports, and stuff was a delicious feast of freedom. Fast forward with too much free time, the summer heat rising in our house, creating the perfect storm for teasing, tag-a-longs, tantrums, and tempers rising with the temperatures — and now I admit I hated August at times. But we never gave up. With no central air conditioning in our home, it wasn’t easy, but we used tried-and-true methods to beat the heat.
My advice? Keep it UP!
GET UP – If you’re doing yardwork, exercising your child’s therapy dog, or even playing outside, get up earlier to beat the blaze. Roofers and road crews know this is vital.
DRESS UP – Clothing which is lighter in color and weave are usually more comfortable. Cotton, for instance, is cooler than a tight polyester knit. When Heidi attended middle school she had a couple of favorite outfits she insisted on wearing — whether it was freezing cold or boiling hot — so I tried to explain things and “creatively” help her adapt her clothing choices.
READ UP – Remember nature’s way to detoxify our body is through perspiration, so don’t be afraid to really sweat, it’s actually very good for us. Countless individuals with autism test abnormally high in chemicals, toxins, and heavy metals in their systems, and have experienced improved health and less anxiety with gradual natural detoxification methods, including far infrared sauna treatments.
SWAP UP – The last thing we need is to add more to our liver’s chemical burden so switch strong anti-perspirants for a good deodorant (which neutralizes odor but won’t clog your pores). There are also herbal capsules (like parsley) which safely help reduce body odor.
LOCK UP – Generally exterior doors are more open in the summertime, and people are less apt to be alert for elopement within the autism population. So if you’re at an indoor/outdoor gathering at the home of friends/family, encourage everyone please help keep an eye out for this special risk, or take turns with specific shifts to avoid a scary scenario.
PARTNER UP – If impulsively running off/wandering is common, tell this tendency to law enforcement and trusted neighbors requesting them to be a part of your “neighborhood watch group” and share phone numbers, etc.
LINK UP – A helpful tool for parents of loved ones who have communication challenges is purchasing a sturdy safety ID bracelet. Remember, it does no good if it’s not worn, so link that clasp everyday so this becomes routine. If you have a “night wonderer” I recommend leaving it on all the time, and do interventions like deadbolt locks installed out of reach.
DRINK UP – Getting hydrated is a chore for most families, but wise parents try to explain why, then insist that this needs to be done — before going out in the summer heat.
ADD UP – To help “boring” water go down a little easier, add natural flavors to give refreshing variety like lemon, lime, or a few drops of other citrus fruit. Personally, I love peppermint leaves in my ice cubes or honey in warm water.
COOK UP – You can avoid heating up the kitchen and house by opting for menus which are cooked outside. Go for it, but remember, eating meat usually causes people to feel hotter afterwards.
PASS UP – Overly spicy or salty foods like nuts, jerky, chips and salsa contribute to thirst and should be served minimally during really hot spells.
EAT UP – Foods such as cucumber, watermelon, and berries are naturally hydrating and refreshing, so try to buy or grow them for a win/win.
BLOCK UP – Depending on the direction of the sun, buy or create a large sheet of cardboard to place on windowsills to insulate your home from the heat. Some families purchase insulated curtains for better darkness and heat control, while others use aluminum foil or an emergency solar blanket to block out all the light. We wanted the option for sunshine, so I covered our cardboard inserts with cute contact paper, and used them only when needed.
EASE UP – If the heat is extreme, yet you have activities or chores that require a lot of exertion, consider bumping them to later or earlier times. If it must be done, ease up a bit, nothing is generally worth getting heat exhaustion or heat stroke over.
PLAY UP – August is a great month to turn on the lawn sprinklers or fill a little pool and let everyone be a kid. Even going through the hottest part of the day in damp clothes, or a wet bandana or ball cap is a free and easy tip.
OPEN UP – In the evenings a cross-ventilation from open windows is a tried-and-true method to help cool down the house. (Just be sure and close them in the morning to retain the benefits.)
LATCH UP – Opening the windows for a breeze is great, but with loved ones affected by autism or precious pets, you’ll sleep better knowing there’s a screen safety secured in each window.
STORE UP – What’s the most vital emergency item to store at home? Water. Think about washing wounds without water, swallowing medications, or helping service animals survive a disaster. Please learn how to safely store water today, you’ll be grateful you did.
Best wishes for your summer! Oh, keep your CHIN UP, too!
~ By Elayne Pearson, Special Needs Safety/Preparedness Specialist