Important resources to keep ALL children safe—especially those with special needs!

by Joanne Bastante-Howard

Let’s save lives together. The loss of one child is too many!

As the saying goes, “curiosity killed the cat!” This expression is a real concern for parents because unlike adults that have the ability to discern boundaries and limitations, kids are just curious. They do not have the maturity to understand that certain behaviors are dangerous.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), injury is the number one cause of death among children in the United States. While I am certainly not suggesting that you place your child into an isolated room or avoid new or unpredictable experiences, I am suggesting that you never leave your son or daughter unattended!

All children regardless of their abilities thrive through exploration. I, for one, enjoy the outdoors with my six-year-old son JJ. Our daily trips are integral to his learning and development, and with my guidance, they foster his creativity. JJ may have Down syndrome, but let me assure you, he has the same need to explore, climb, run and jump like the rest of us. If he’s anything like his mom, he will be playing ball, scaling walls and climbing fences in no time!

Recently, my friend, a mother of two young children, reminded me that scrapes, bumps and bruises are all part of an active and healthy child’s development. I must admit, this is easy for me to forget, particularly since I have only one child and tend to grimace and dodge the dirt and objects being hurled at me.

I believe the key to keeping children safe is for parents and caretakers to be one step ahead of the little ones. Moms, dads and babysitters must always use caution and carefully supervise their children in and outside their home especially around sharp objects electric appliances, utensils, hot water, strings, ribbons, window-blinds/chords, bags, balloons and doors.

It should be second nature that we always remember to place child safety locks on all cleaning detergents and chemicals. They must be unattainable to children in your home. Most injuries occur around homes and are preventable including poisoning, burns and bicycle accidents.

Things all kids like to do indoors that you should be on the lookout for:

• Flushing all types of objects down the toilet

• Grabbing debris out of the toilet

• Touching hot surfaces and turning on hot water faucets

• Inserting all kinds of objects into outlets

• Throwing large objects at windows, walls and light fixtures

• Playing with matches, hanging cords and lighting fixtures

• Putting items inside electric appliances like the stove, VCR/DVD player, toaster, you name it!

• Using furniture to climb onto window sills and countertops

It is estimated that 10,000 children are injured at home from a fall from three feet or higher. According to the CDC, every 90 seconds an injured infant enters a U.S. emergency room.

The CDC also estimates that each year emergency rooms treat more than 200,000 children 14 years old and younger in the U.S. for playground injuries.

Kids with intellectual disabilities are more vulnerable to injury. For this reason, I suggest teaching your child by personally taking the time to “show” him appropriate behaviors with these three strategies as a guide.

Remember to be creative, patient and…

1. Teach about unsafe behaviors. Explain the consequences

Whenever possible model the appropriate behavior and use visual aids. Simply telling a child “don’t do that!” does not provide the reasoning. Demonstrate by example what you would like him or her to do. For example, if you run, you may fall down and get hurt.

A note to the wise: For small children with intellectual disabilities, it may take a much longer time for them to completely understand; therefore, lock-up doors, designate safe places for him or her to climb, cover electric outlets and remove heavy objects from rooms where damage may occur.

2. Illustrate through clear messages. Use visual signs and pictures.

Use pictures and diagrams to help your child understand your spoken words. Make sure you give a firm “no” in response to a dangerous situation. Do not offer long explanations. Visual sequencing and aids can also help get your message across more effectively.

Below are ways to explain important concepts to your child. At the end of the safety section, I have provided books that you can purchase to give you additional ideas to help you teach your children how to remain safe at all times.


Do you know why people with disabilities are at risk?

Decreased mobility, health, sight and hearing impairments may limit a person’s ability to take quick action to escape during an emergency.

Many actions an individual can take to protect himself/herself from danger of a fire may require the help of a caretaker, neighbor or outside source.

Fire safety checklist:

1. General safety in your home—in the event of a fire, every second counts!

• Do not wear loose clothing when cooking.

• Do not leave food cooking unattended.

• Use a timer to remind you of food in the oven.

• Don’t overload electrical outlets or extension cords.

• Never use the oven to heat your home.

• Properly maintain chimneys and space heaters.

• Keep a phone near your bed and be ready to call 911 or your local emergency number if a fire occurs.

• Have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and near the bedroom(s).

• Make certain children are wearing fire retardant sleepwear.

• If your clothing catches fire, STOP, DROP and ROLL on the floor.

• Do not leave any child unattended.

2. Install and maintain smoke alarms—make certain you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home (test monthly and replace batteries at least twice a year)!

• Audible alarms should pause with a small window of silence between each successive cycle so that people who are visually impaired can listen to the instructions.

• Individuals who are hearing impaired cannot rely on traditional audible smoke alarms but can use visual alarms equipped with strobe lights.

• Hearing impaired individuals can contact the local fire department to obtain information on a flashing or vibrating smoke alarm.

• Make certain that working smoke alarms are installed on each level of your home. You may want a friend or family member to assist you.

• Remember to test the smoke alarms monthly and to change the batteries at least twice a year.

3. Don’t isolate yourself—communicate with your family, friends, and caretakers!

• Speak to your family members, neighbors and/or your building manager about your fire safety plan and practice it with them.

• Ask emergency responders to keep your personal/critical needs information on file.

• Contact your local fire department’s non-emergency line and explain your needs. For those who are hearing impaired, deaf or speech impaired, you may use the appropriate Text Telephone (TTY) device if necessary. The firefighters will likely suggest escape plan ideas. They may even perform a home fire safety inspection.

• Prepare an emergency number sheet and keep it in your possession.

4. Live near an exit and plan your escape—individuals with mobility disabilities are encouraged to have their bedroom on the ground level and close to an exit! If you live in an apartment building, you will be safer on the ground floor. If that is not possible, make sure there is an outdoor fire escape, otherwise, you may need to purchase an “escape ladder.” (Global Industries® has a number of models, including T9F640194, for approximately $140). With the help of your local fire department, evaluate the appropriate model that fits your needs and budget.

• Be sure your address is clearly marked and visible from the street.

• If necessary, have a ramp available.

• During a fire, never use an elevator unless you are instructed to do so by the fire department.

• Practice escapes from every room in your house with your friends, family, building manager and caretakers.

• Practice opening and shutting windows around your home. Make certain that none are stuck and that screens can be removed quickly for an emergency exit.

• If you encounter smoke, stay low to the ground to exit your home.

• Once you are out of the home, stay out. Call 911 or your local emergency number from a neighbor’s house.

Important Resources and Website

Smoke Detectors & Fire Alarms for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired

As suggested earlier, check with your local fire department for assistance in obtaining the best solution.

To learn more visit Assistech or call 1-866-674-3549. They feature smoke detectors by Gentex®, Silent Call® and other brands. The models with high-intensity strobe lights are ADA-compliant. Most models range in price from $50 to $200 per unit.

Assistech also offers new “talking smoke detectors” that are ideal for all children, especially the blind and visually impaired. These devices range from $70 to $200 per unit.

Note: Please check with distributor regarding availability and discontinued models. Prices are subject to change and are estimates provided online August 2013.

Books and Online Resources

There are a number of books and online resources available to help you teach your children about proper safety. America’s Special Kidz does not endorse or promote any of these authors or resources. The content provided is for information purposes only.

Children’s Books:

Your Body Belongs to You by Cornelia Spelman,(January 1, 1997)

Handy Manny Safety First! By Disney® Book Group (May 19, 2009)

Developing Personal Safety Skills in Children with Disabilities by Freda Briggs (Sept. 2002)

Stop Drop and Roll (A Book About Fire Safety) by Margery Cuyler and Arthur Howard (Sept. 1, 2001)

Safe Kids, Smart Parents (What Parents Need to Know to Keep Their Children Safe) by Rebecca Bailey, Elizabeth Bailey and Terry Probyn (June 11, 2013)

Keeping You Safe (A Book About Police Officers) by Ann Owen and Eric Thomas (Sept. 1, 2003)

Bobby and Mandee’s Good Touch/Bad Touch: Children’s Safety Book by Robert Kahn and Chris Hardie (July 1, 2011)

Helpful Resources and Emergency Websites:

Kidpower (bully prevention, abuse prevention and stranger safety)

LDOnline (online safety for children with learning disabilities)

Children’s Safety Network (national resource for preventions on injuries and violence)

Rad Kids (national leader in children’s safety)

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

AMBER Alert (U.S. Department of Justice)

FBI’s Website Resources on Kidnappings & Missing Persons

State Fire Marshal’s Office, Division of Fire Safety NJ Dept. of Community Affairs, 1-609-633-6106

State EMS Office, NJ Department of Health & Senior Services, 1-609-633-7777

State Hazardous Materials Office, New Jersey State Police Office of Emergency Management, 1-609-538-6058

National Fire Incident Reporting System, NJ Division of Fire Safety, 1-609-633-6324

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