Considering Children With Special Needs in a School Emergency

In the aftermath of the terrible Florida school shooting many people are examining the plans to keep individuals with special needs safe in the event of a lockdown or evacuation. Most schools are conducting drills and training to make the procedures more familiar to students and staff. While this is a very good practice, students with special needs may have additional issues with such drills and emergencies. Many rigid kids get very upset about having their routine disrupted.  The alarms and announcements may be upsetting to children who are sensitive to loud sounds.

Here are some “special needs considerations” you may want to discuss with your child’s school that may make the process of conducting drills and trainings go more smoothly. It may also, in fact, save lives, should a situation arise when these drills turn into a real-life emergency.

Preventive measures – If possible, students with sensory issues or their teachers may be given an early warning so that such children can be equipped with headphones or moved away from speakers or bells. Of course, in a real emergency no such precautions will be available.

Lockdown – If a lockdown occurs the usual protocol is that everyone should hide in the nearest classroom or structure. While your child’s backpack, cubby or homeroom may be fully stocked with every medical, emotional and sensory item the student might need during the day what happens if the class ends up locked down in another part of the school? What if the lockdown drags on for hours?

Accessibility needs in the case of evacuation – If a child uses a walker or wheelchair, are all their classes on the ground floor? If not, will the elevators be operational? Are the elevators key operated, and if they are who has the key? What if the power goes out? Are there ramps? Many older buildings are not very accessible so check out if the school has been brought up to the current ADA code.

Medical needs – In the case of a lockdown or evacuation, does the child have any medical needs? Will any epi pens, medicines, feeding or toileting supplies be available? Discuss this with your child’s teacher or school and see if kits can be kept in several places on campus.

Emotional needs – In a lockdown situation students are asked to remain quiet so as not to draw attention to the room. Will the student need something to keep them occupied, like an ipad with headphones or a weighted west? How can these items be made available during an emergency?

Depending on the staff to student ratio, you may be able to formulate a specific plan for your child in such events that takes into account their sensitivities and needs, or a more general plan if there is a larger special-needs population.

Take the time now to discuss these issues with your school and formulate a plan – and hopefully they’ll never need to use it.

About the Author

Rosie Reeves is a writer and mother of three; including one with special needs. She works side-by-side with her daughter’s therapists, teachers and doctors. Rosie has also served as the Los Angeles Special Needs Kids Examiner and serves as a contributor on the Yahoo! Contributor Network. She can be reached at Rosie is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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