Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In Case of Emergency

Jennifer Byde Myers
jennyalice.com

iEmergency+ application
Create your own lock-screen
with important information.
I just got the paperwork from Jack's school to set all of our records straight for the next school year. I know... already, summer is flying by. I scanned through the printed information I filled out from last year and got stopped at that emergency contact section again. It is a list that really defines the borders of my close-knit community.

In an emergency, who can care for your child with special needs? Most of the time life goes along just swimmingly, but things happen; cars break down on the way to pick-up, I broke my leg once, we live in earthquake country.

I have a collection of people that I know can take care of my child and keep him safe. It's a short list, and I wouldn't ask many on that list to even babysit on a Friday night, but they are people who are smart, calm in an emergency, and most of all, I have spoken with each of them specifically about what would be required if they became the temporary guardian of my special needs kid. They aren't really big things, but they are extremely important, like "do not let go of his hand on a street" and "he must use a straw to drink." Basics, really, to ensure that he will still be alive when I come to get him later.

I am the emergency contact for several of my friends with kids on the spectrum, or for children who have physical disabilities. Maybe my friends figure if I've managed to parent my kids this far I might be able to take care of their child for an hour. It may seem strange, but I am honored to be asked because I know the faith I put in my people when I write down their names and numbers on the back-to-school papers and camp forms.

A few things we have learned along the way-
  • It's a pain to fill out all of the forms for camp and school, but this is one area you should not rush through. Make sure the information is correct and clearly written. If you have bad handwriting, use the computer and print out the information on a separate piece of paper. Aside from allergies to medications and seizure protocol, this list is the most important thing I can provide my kids' camp or school.
  • Have a quick conversation with anyone you put on your list asking their permission to be called upon. Go over any major safety concerns. If your child requires specific medical care, ensure that the contact understands how to do that procedure. I was taught how to change out a g-tube, had a spare tube, and had liquid formula at my house to get through a few days as the main contact for one family's child.
  • Determine who is on the emergency contact list that is local and can most easily care for your child in a pinch; this is the short list for quick pick up. Get their correct phone numbers and email addresses, and if there are two caretakers in a family, and either could help, write down both names so your child can be released to their care.  Remember to include area codes with all phone numbers; school, work and home are all in different area codes for us.
  • Put down any relative that you trust on that emergency pick-up list. If there is a real emergency, like a major disaster, it's hard to say who will be available to help. You may not need to provide detailed contact information for every person, but schools will not release a child to someone who is not on the pick-up list. If I need to send my sister to any camp or school, we both know that she is always allowed to pick up my kids, even though she lives 200 miles away.
  • Create an online document, using something like Google docs or Evernote, or even an email you send to yourself, with all of the information that you give to school or camp. If it is online you can access it from anywhere you might need it. It will also make it easier for next year and the year after that.
  • Print a copy of the emergency contact information and post it inside a kitchen cabinet or wherever you keep your family calendar and planning information. This list doubles as a contact list for babysitters or other professionals who may work in your home.
Having an emergency contact isn't just for kids either. Autistic adults, especially those with health issues, can benefit from having an emergency contact who understands their particular needs.
  • Local family or your spouse are probably your first choice as a contact, but a neighbor, coworker, or friend could also be a person you can call upon if they have the right information about your needs.
  • Use technology to your advantage. In stressful situations, it's not uncommon to lose communication skills, and technology may be able provide information for you. Both Android and iPhone users can use applications that have emergency contact and medical information. On one iPhone app,  iEmergency+ you can create a lock screen wallpaper with an emergency contact number and a line of information, which is a great place to share significant allergies.
  • Outline clear instructions for medical needs, like seizure protocol--call after one minute, call after two minutes, you are alert but non-verbal during seizures, etc. This can give even a stranger better information to use when trying to determine what level of help you need, and whether they should call 911 (in the U.S.),  or emergency services.
  • Attach your protocols for seizure, migraines, or allergies to your health insurance card, and ensure that your contact's name and number are also on the card. Hospitals look for insurance information. (While you're at it, make sure you have a current insurance card if you are lucky enough to have health insurance.)
  • Keep current contact information at your office, in your car, and in an accessible space at home. Make it easy for people to help you by listing allergies and current medications.
  • And you probably already know that the wrong help may be no help at all, and may even be worse than not having someone at your side. If you have local family that creates more drama and anxiety than you can handle on a non-emergency day, consider carefully whether those people should be on your short list. If you don't already have an emergency contact who "gets" you, make it a goal this year, to get an emergency contact that makes you feel safe, and understands your needs.
And perhaps the one thing we can do for each other, if you think you can help, is volunteer to be an emergency contact for another family or person. When Jack was in early intervention I remember feeling that I couldn't possibly ask other parents of special needs kids to help me because I knew how many things they were already juggling. Today some of those families are on the short list of who I know would always be able to keep my kids safe.

Call a friend, and say that you are happy to be on their emergency contact list, if needed, and make one thing easier for that person.