Summer Safety for Children with Special Needs

Photo: JKP author Dr. Charlotte ThompsonBy Charlotte E. Thompson, M.D.

Most parents and grandparents sigh with relief once summer is over and children are safely back in school. I know I certainly let out a big sigh. Now that another summer is here, one of the biggest worries is keeping our children and grandchildren safe. This is an extra responsibility for grandparents if they have the care of a grandchild even for a few hours or a day. If you have your grandchildren for longer periods, then you have to be even more vigilant and keeping up with an active child is harder as we get older.

Kids with and without disabilities account for about 40% of summer visits to the emergency rooms from May to August in the U.S., and I am sure the statistics are similar in other countries. Remember, however, that many ERs are not equipped to care for children and many ER doctors have little or no pediatric training. Thus, all grandparents should know how to do CPR and the Heimlich maneuver which would be used if a grandchild is choking and unable to cough up food or a foreign body. If a grandchild has a convulsion or seizure, 911 in the U.S, or the local emergency number should be called. Any sharp objects should be moved and the grandchild’s airway checked to be sure no food or a foreign object is obstructing it.

Ingesting poisons is always a concern and when kids are hungry or thirsty they will eat or drink almost anything. One patient of mine saw an open Coke bottle in a neighbor’s yard and took a drink. His feeding tube or esophagus had to be replaced. Thus it is important to have the number of the poison hotline posted near your telephone. For the UK, the number is 0845-4547. In the U.S., it is 1-800-22-1222.

Another recent cause of concern is that kids are swallowing small magnets found in many toys and other objects. These magnets can pierce the esophagus and result in death, unless prompt and aggressive treatment is received.

If an autistic child runs away, they can get into all kinds of trouble or accidents. Letting your local police know that your grandchild has a tendency to slip away before it happens can put them on alert if you need help in locating the child. If you are near the ocean, swimming pools, or a lake, drowning is of particular concern. All children should be taught water safety, particularly if they tend to run away. Even house bath water can be a problem. If the water is too hot, a child with impaired sensation in the lower extremities can be badly burned, so the house water heater should be turned down below 120 degrees Fahrenheit. No small child or a child with a disability should be left alone in a bathtub, wading or swimming pool. If the telephone or doorbell rings either take the child with you or just ignore the rings.

Summer picnics are lots of fun, but grandchildren must be watched to be sure they don’t get near an outdoor grill or another source of fire. Burns can be particularly severe if a child has impaired sensation. Having a first-aid kit in your car and house is a must. Playground equipment in the yard or in a park can be a problem if there are ropes or swings where a child can fall or become entangled. Window coverings can present a problem if there is any way a child can become entangled in a cord.

Household appliances, such as dryers, stoves, microwave ovens, irons and even toy chests with heavy lids can be a problem if a child decides to open one and climb in. Keeping your eyes on grandchildren can be hard particularly if they are hyperactive. Kids love to investigate and open sockets can also be a temptation. These can be covered with safety caps available online, in baby or hardware stores.

Medications should be under lock and key or up high and grandmothers’ purses can present a potential problem if medications are inside. Firearms, too, must be locked up. Garages usually contain all kinds of fascinating and potentially dangerous things and should be off-limits to a grandchild unless a grandparent is in charge and watching carefully. Kitchens usually have many dangerous things under the sink and these should be put up high. Open windows and open doors, particularly leading to a balcony should be closed and locked.

The list goes on and on…so my best advice is to walk around your house and yard before a grandchild visits and do this periodically to think about what could harm a grandchild. Grandchildren can also be taught about potential dangers and to warn you if there is a cause for alarm. When my son was about three he was playing with some neighborhood children in our back yard. The kids seemed to be happy and I could see and hear them through the back windows. Suddenly, Geoffrey ran in saying “Mommy, the children are going to need their stomachs pumped out!” I ran to the back yard and found a neighborhood child beginning to pass out medicine bottles from a big black purse. The boy had apparently filled an empty purse from a medicine cabinet and was playing doctor! How luck I was that Geoffrey had heard my many accounts of visits to the ER to care for children who had ingested medicines or poisons.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

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