Make your home safe for your special needs child

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How to make your special-needs child’s life easier and safer around the home.

If you have a special needs child at home, you’ll know that as well as the rewards it can also be challenging at times.

Children have an unswerving knack of finding the sharpest corners, most slippery surfaces and valuable ornaments to play with, and keeping an eye on your busy baby, toddler or child is tough at times.

Children with disabilities are more likely to experience accidents, especially in the kitchen. With the number of children with special needs on the rise, the need for child safety is greater than ever before.

As a parent, you need to start “child-proofing” your home. In order to discover how best to take care of your children properly, it is important to consider the type of physical disability your children have.

Types of Physical Disabilities:

Sight: if your child has sight difficulties, you need to place certain tactile indicators in your home.
Hearing: children who have hearing problems need to be warned visually.
Mobility: children with mobility issues should have a communications device and should have easy access to the nearest exit.

Not only do we have to make sure that the home is safe and secure, but we also need to find as many ways as possible to make their lives easier as well as the environment safer.

The bedroom

The bedroom is a small haven for most children, and it’s important to maximise independence while making it as comfortable and safe as possible for your children.

Some parents also express grave concerns about their child leaving their bedroom at night. It is a critical issue related to safety as well as overall quality of life for the family. Parents need to get sleep while being assured their child is secure.

Door and window alarms can be a key investment in keeping your child safe. Consulting a professional who installs alarms is also a good idea, as they can advise you of the legal and larger safety implications of the security measure you are considering. If you feel more than an alarm may be needed and you choose to put locks on the doors, use locks that you are easy open: a hook-and-eye lock, or a slide-bolt. Some parents place the lock key above the door frame of the room for quick and easy access. It is imperative that you have immediate access to any locked room in the event of fire or other emergency.

It may also be necessary to use safety locks (often plastic devices) to secure items that may be unsafe for the individual. Many parents place these locks on bathroom and kitchen cabinets to prevent access to items in the cabinets.

One of the main issues for people with reduced mobility is reaching accessible spaces for playing. Tables with tilting tops make drawing and painting a breeze, while transfer boards, mattress protectors and sheets now come in a range of cool colours to make bedtime more fun.

The bathroom

You never realise how many problems the humble bathroom can cause until you are faced with using the room, with a special needs child. The good news is, from simple tap turners to great bath lifts for kids, there are a range of products designed to make life much easier for your child. The Mountway Splash bath lift has been designed as an ultra lightweight, affordable bath lift, which weighs just six and a half kilos.

Aquajoy also offers a great range of bath lifts and supports for kids, with a range of funky covers and accessories that brighten up the bathroom as well as making it a safer, more convenient and accessible place to splash about!

Secure items that are dangerous if ingested, such as detergents, chemicals, cleaning supplies, pesticides, medications and small items a child might mouth or chew. It is easy for an individual with autism to confuse a bottle of yellow cleaning fluid with juice based on appearance or to pour/spill liquids (some of which may be poisonous or toxic) out of a bottle.

Also, pills that look like candy can easily be eaten by mistake. Place such items out of reach or in cabinets with locks.

Keep the poison control phone number in a permanent place that is clearly in view.

Consider keeping bath toys in a bag or bin away from the tub and unavailable until bathing and hair washing are completed. This will help the child focus on bathing and prevent power struggles while in the tub. You do not want a child flailing around in a slippery bathtub.

Keep bath items (soap, washcloth, shampoo, sponges, etc.) together in a plastic bin or rubber bag and accessible. Replace open-lip bottles with pump dispensers so the child will not empty or ingest the contents.

The Living Area or Playroom

Arrange the furniture in a way that makes sense for the activities the individual is expected to do. That is, if the individual will be doing seated activities, ensure that there are clear table surfaces and appropriate chairs. If the child frequently runs out of a room via a predictable path, arrange the furniture and close doors so he or she is unable to escape. Limit the need for excessive movement and/or transition. Move furniture away from shelves or places where the child may climb.

Keep furniture surfaces clear (if the individual is a “sweeper”) and place items out of reach on shelves or bins, or lock things away. In addition, use gates or barriers to prevent falling down steps or to limit access to certain areas in the home.

For individuals who run away or leave the home without supervision (also referred to as “elopement” or “wandering”), it is important to place locks and alarms on exterior doors and windows. This may prevent the child from leaving, or at the very least notify you if he/she attempts to open a potential exit route.

Use dividers, tape boundaries, and signs as needed for setting expectations and limits. For example, the use of STOP signs on doors, drawers furniture, and appliances has helped some children understand that these items/ areas are off-limits. For children who climb on high surfaces or enter areas they should not, STOP signs will let them know what they are doing is dangerous. Using color tape to designate boundaries on carpets, floors or walls can help to visually remind children where their bodies need to remain.

The kitchen

You want to make your child as independent as possible, and the kitchen is a great place to explore, learn and develop skills.

The first step in protecting your children from potential hazards in the kitchen is to develop long-term children safety habits. Here are some things you can do.

Be a good role model: never play with fire in front of your children or do something that might threaten your life. Children will always copy your behavior. Remember to act scared when you are in potential danger in order to make your children be scared of any potential danger.

Kindly talk to your children and try to make them realize the potential dangers they expose to if they do things in the kitchen they are not allowed to do. This includes cooking, ingesting cleaning products or chemicals, using electric blankets or cutting vegetables or fruits using a sharp knife.

Eating together strengthens your relationships as a family and makes your children more obedient to you. In addition to spending time eating together, you should get children involved in planning meals and cooking together.

Sight Difficulties:
Children with sight difficulties can accidentally cut with knives or can hurt themselves by touching rough edges of the furniture or kitchen cabinets. Additionally, they won’t be able to notice the fire alarm if it goes off and might have difficulties in finding the exit route. If your child has sight difficulties, he might hurt himself if touching certain appliances that are not turned off.

Remove any heavy mirrors or pictures that hang on the kitchen walls, along with other harmful objects or appliances such as knives, frying pans or pots.

Add a smoke alarm and put a highly coloured sticker on it in order to make sure your children notice it. Additionally, make sure it rings very loud so that they can hear it.

To ensure that appliances are switched off properly. Fit plastic blisters to all of your appliances. Check electrical leads in order to ensure they are not faulty.

Consider placing a tactile indicator along the escape route in order to help your children find the exit with ease in case of an accident.

All dangerous items should be put away immediately. For example, put away the food processor or the blender once you’ve cleaned them. Knives and sharp objects should never be left on the table.

The kitchen floor should be kept free of clutter and should be thoroughly cleaned in order to ensure your children will not slip on it.

Hearing Difficulties:
Children with hearing difficulties will not hear the smoke alarm and might not hear the water boiling on the stove.

You need to ensure that the smoking alarm has plenty of light signals and vibrating pads.

Make sure all gas valves feature shut-off valves. Install shut-off valves right beside your stove to ensure your child will never be able to turn the gas on, either accidentally or by will.

Mobility:
Children with reduced mobility might find it quite difficult to exit the kitchen in case of an accident, a fire or a malfunction.

Design a corridor-style kitchen and install additional handrails along the sides of the corridor.

Cover your radiators, lock any dangerous rooms and remove any gates or objects that are blocking the exit. For kids with reduced mobility, who either use a wheelchair or a stick, make sure that appliances and other type of kitchen furniture are not stored on top shelves, but on the wall or inside a cupboard. Your children’s attempt to reach something on the top shelf might prove to be disastrous.

When using utensils during mealtimes, consider tying utensils to nylon string and attaching them to the chair or leg of the table. This way if the child throws the utensils, they will remain attached to the string. Children have “unintentionally” thrown forks across the table and injured other family members. If the child throws or sweeps plates, bowls, and cups, secure them with adhesive Velcro and attach them to a secure placement. Use plastic or rubber plates, bowls, and cups to prevent shattering of breakable items.

There are relatively few products on the market that are really designed to help your kids make the most of cooking, experimenting and fixing meals and drinks.

The Gripware high sided dish makes for easy eating, promoting independence while keeping surfaces safe from spills, while products such as the Prima perching stool provide an ideal safe environment for meal times.

There is also a range of cutlery available for kids with gripping challenges, including the Good Grips Youth range, to make dinner time safer and more comfortable.

Making life easier for your child in the home needn’t be an expensive or daunting task. Focus on practical support first, and then make meal, bed and playtimes fun by introducing bold bright colours, cool gadgets and a range of items that both help promote your kids’ independence, and make everyday activities more fun.

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