In this day and age, we see and hear of different kinds of emergencies in schools. Overwhelming as these situations are, they can be especially excruciating for children with special needs. It is therefore important that parents and schools plan and implement measures to be taken during a school crisis.
Such preparation will also provide the foundation of equipping children with do’s and don’ts during the emergency. Read this blog to learn more about supporting special needs kids in the event of a school crisis.
Importance of Preparing for a School Crisis
Parents send their children to school so that they can learn and develop skills to lead a purposeful life. They meticulously evaluate the education policy and the curriculum of the school before enrolling them. However, very few parents check if the schools have emergency preparedness programs that support special needs children.
Schools do their best to consider the needs of all children in their safety plans. That said, more needs to be done. Teachers have expressed concerns about how the system is woefully underprepared for emergencies. Better systems need to be in place to practice lockdowns and evacuation drills, especially for children with special needs.
Fortunately, there are some steps that can be taken to ensure better preparedness for all children.
Teachers must ensure that they assess each student to formulate a plan that serves their individual needs. A chart can be prepared for each student. It can list attributes that can help or hinder their safety. This will help in coming up with a plan that best suits the student’s abilities.
For children who use AAC apps for communication, the safety plan can be explained through the app they use. Teachers can customize the app to familiarize children with safety routines. This will ensure they know what to do during an emergency.
The school can distribute copies of the finalized individual plan to teachers, parents, and counsellors. This will ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page regarding the safety procedures to be followed. The plan should be updated periodically to keep up with the changing requirements of kids with special needs.
Awareness of Parents
Most parents assume that their school has a strategy outlined to help children with disabilities during a school crisis. However, in the absence of a well-defined plan, teachers are often left to their own devices.
Parents need to talk to the schools about the drill schedules and lockdown procedures. Discussing the child’s individual needs and how they can be addressed is crucial. Once a plan has been devised, parents can talk to their children about the routines they need to follow. It also helps to revise the same with the kids from time to time. This will enable them to follow instructions and get themselves to safety.
Navigating the Physical Environment
The school should identify shelters or hiding spots which are conducive for children with disabilities. These shelters should be able to accommodate any assistive technology or device they use, including wheelchairs and crutches. Teachers can encourage children to get to the hiding spots during practice drills by rewarding them with stickers or toys. This will ensure the compliance of the children during a crisis.
In case of natural disasters, or danger from within the building, blocked hallways can pose a problem. Therefore, it is important to be aware of alternate routes to safety. Teachers and staff must also train to move furniture out of the way, to free up the path(s) to assigned shelters.
Building an Emergency Kit for Special Needs Children
Children with special needs may experience a sensory overload due to loud noise from fire alarms and shouting during lockdowns or evacuation. Having an individual emergency kit for each student helps in such cases and should be a compulsory part of the safety plan. Here are some suggestions for what such a kit for children with special needs could contain:
The emergency tool bag must contain nebulizers or masks for children with respiratory illnesses. Medicines for children with diabetes, and for children prone to allergies and epilepsy must also be included.
The emergency kit must include a toy or a book that can comfort the child. It will also serve to keep them engaged during the lockdown. Music players with headphones or noise cancellation headphones can reduce anxiety in children with special needs. For kids with sensory needs, including sensory toys such as chewelry (chewable medical grade jewelry) and stress balls can help them control their vocalizations.
Communication & AAC Apps
Having SGDs in the bag can help kids who use iPads or other AAC devices for communication to communicate with first responders if needed.
Food & Activities
Including favourite snacks and treats of the children is a good idea. Coloring books and crayons can keep them occupied and calm during the lockdown.
School officials should collaborate with special educators, teachers, and parents to make sure that children with special needs are adequately supported in their emergency plans. The plans should focus on the individual physical, mental, and cognitive abilities of the children. Practicing the drills with the children as specified in the plans is essential to enable them to stay safe during a school crisis.
Does your child’s school have an emergency preparedness plan? What has your experience with it been like? We would love to know! Please write about them in the comment section below. Sharing ideas and suggestions can help the community learn and be more aware of the challenges special needs children face regularly.