After the Disaster:
Helping Individuals with Autism and Special Needs Cope

Here’s a good starting point: there’s no right or wrong way to process all the complex feelings and emotions that come up when there’s been a fire, flood, storm or other disaster. Catastrophic events are, by definition, traumatic, upsetting events. Everyone needs understanding and support throughout the recovery process.

The individual with autism and special needs, who may not be able to understand or articulate their reactions to a disastrous event that occurs in their home, school, or work place, may need additional levels of support. Here are five ways you can help an individual with autism cope with the after effects of a disaster:

1. Maintain as much of your family’s normal routine as possible

Having a regular, predictable routine is a great source of comfort for many individuals with autism. Disasters are particularly upsetting in part because they cause change to this routine. As much as possible, continue their regular schedule, especially as it occurs outside of the property affected by the disaster. Going to school and other activities as expected can help them regain some sense of familiarity with what’s going on around them; maintaining routines like regular bed times or a particular meal on a given day can be tougher if the disaster has forced you out of your home, but they do help ease the tension they are experiencing.

If comfort objects were adversely affected by the disaster, let your disaster restoration professional know. In some instances, it may be possible to save the comfort item. If that’s not possible, seeking out replacements for the comfort item may be helpful.

2. Bring the support team in very early in the process

After you’ve finished calling your insurance company and New Crystal Restoration, the next set of calls needs to be to your support team. This includes teachers, aides, counselors, and any health care professionals they see regularly, as well as any care providers. Every member of this team needs to know what’s going on; a coordinated response among them to ensure they get appropriate support and guidance through the recovery process will help make your life easier. Be sure that when you call New Crystal Restoration that you alert them that you have an individual with autism or special needs so that we can work with your team.

3. Don't forget about your own support team

As the parent of an individual with autism or special needs who’s just had a disaster occur in your home or other property, you are under a tremendous amount of stress. You need support throughout this process. Reach out to your friends, supportive family members, and other people who can help you manage the logistics of home restoration, assist with child care, and step in to assist with the myriad of other tasks that go with getting life back to normal. Spouses and romantic partners can be a great source of support, but remember, they’ve also just gone through a traumatic disastrous event as well. Their emotional resources will be drained as well. Seeking assistance from outside sources is a very good idea.

4. Meltdown Management and Special Accommodations

Emotional outbursts, aggressive acting out, and meltdowns are one of the most challenging aspects of raising an individual with autism. The chances are good that your family has already developed your own unique set of coping strategies for dealing with these moments. After a disaster, maintain a heightened awareness as to the likelihood of a meltdown, and as much as possible, avoid those stimuli that are problematic even when everything’s going great.

Even if they are non-verbal or have great communication difficulties, keep them as fully informed as possible, on an age appropriate level, about what’s going on with the home restoration process. It is not uncommon for an individual to become obsessed about the circumstances surrounding the disaster; be prepared for extensive discussions or a compulsive interest about the precipitating event. Coordinate with their therapist if this interest appears to be exacerbating, rather than alleviating, their anxiety levels. In some cases, medication therapy may be useful to get through this transition period, but this is a decision to be made by the parent and physician.

If you use a chart or schedule to help with their routine, you may be able to post pictures of the workers, machines and before/after pictures to visually mark what will be happening each day. Social stories may also be used to explain the restoration process and that what was a “bad” event will soon have a “happy” ending.

Prepare your individual with autism for noise and extra stimuli. Machines and equipment may be needed causing sensory overload. We recommend using ear phones, scheduling work when the individual is with a relative, friend or caregiver, and if possible, New Crystal Restoration can do the work during the hours when the individual is at their program.

5. We LOVE someone with Autism and Special Needs too!

New Crystal Restoration is here to help you through this emotion, stressful and difficult time. We will work as quickly and carefully, mindful of your special needs individual and that this disaster is adversely impacting their routine. New Crystal Restoration may need to apply cleaning agents. Our products are SAFE, non-toxic and botanically based. We understand that an individual with autism or special needs thrives on a predictable schedule and consistency, relishes a stress free environment and has challenges with sensory integration and auditory stimuli. We get it; we love someone with autism too!