Keeping Kids Safe During Community Outings

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By Bridget A. Trivinia, OTD, MS, OTR/L

Community outings are good for the soul. As a parent, one of our most basic instincts is to keep our children safe. We often think about safety measures inside and outside of the home when our children are younger.

Considerations may include:

  • Safeguarding our home with locks on doors, windows, and fences
  • Steps to take in the event of a fire or to prevent drowning
  • Stranger safety
  • What to do if we become separated from our child while out in the community

Children with Down syndrome may be more susceptible to danger in certain situations, which can heighten safety concerns. Often individuals with Down syndrome have a limited sense of danger, are more impulsive, may have hearing and vision impairments or cognitive and speech challenges that can influence their ability to safely engage in the community. All these concerns require parents and guardians to plan ahead for a successful community outing and to minimize any time we are separated from our child if they wander or get separated from us.

Factors that can place children with Down syndrome at increased safety risk compared to their typically developing peers include:

  • More difficulty interpreting the danger of a situation.
  • Adverse response to an overstimulating environment – such as an overcrowded public place – may result in the child running or hiding due to sensory challenges.
  • An inability – or difficulty – of the child to call for help or provide key details to people trying to help them due to limited communication skills. The child may not be able to communicate their name, their parent or guardian’s full name, their address, phone number and who they were with at the event when they became separated.
  • Difficulty using a telephone to communicate with a parent/guardian if they are separated, due to limited communication skills.

As children age and transition into adulthood, many of the same concerns exist as they did when they were younger. If your child tends to wander or you are concerned they may have difficulty understanding the danger of a situation or communicating pertinent information if separated from you in the community, you can initiate a safety plan (like the example below) to minimize the amount of time separated from you.

Developing a Safety Plan: 5 Tips

  • Create an information sheet that contains identifying and personal information that can be quickly shared to emergency responders, including a recent picture of your child. Keep a copy in your home, your vehicle, your purse/bag, and your child’s purse or backpack.
    • Preformatted sheets are available which allow you to fill in the blanks regarding your child’s personal information including physical characteristics, what they are wearing, medical and behavioral issues. Download a copy of Special Needs Information Page (SNIP) from the National Autism Association.
  • When going out into the community, take a picture of your child on your phone so you can share exactly the type and color of clothing they are wearing that day. (This photo can include other family members if needed.)
  • If your child is at least 10 years of age (Pennsylvania) or 14 years of age (New Jersey), you can obtain a non-driver photo identification (ID) through your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (PennDOT – Pennsylvania) or Motor Vehicle Commission (New Jersey). Your child can keep the photo ID in their wallet, purse or backpack. (Tip: Make a copy of this for your own records as well.)
  • If your child likes jewelry, consider having them wear a bracelet or necklace with pertinent medical and emergency contact information inscribed on the back.
  • Additional types of ID tags are available, such as clothing labels, shoe tags and temporary tattoos.
  • If your child has a phone:
    • Save your contact information in their phone as the emergency contact or note “ICE” next to your name in the phone contact which identifies you as the person emergency responders should contact in case of emergency.
    • Download a GPS app which allows map viewing of your child’s location. Make sure your child’s phone is “always” sharing location.
  • Additional location-tracking devices, such as Tile, Apple Air tag, or Smart Tracker – all of which can be linked to a parent’s smartphone – are lightweight, can be easily attached to a child’s purse/backpack, or placed in a child’s pocket. (new info added, should be confirmed by author)

Bridget A. Trivinia, OTD, MS, OTR/L, is education and development coordinator in the Trisomy 21 Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.