So when you have children, as a parent you automatically do everything you can to ensure that your child is safe at all times, right? From ensuring your child is safely being strapped in a car seat, to holding hands across the road, to ensuring poisonous liquids are stored safely out of reach etc.
Well when you have a child diagnosed with Autism, PDA and additional mental health conditions, ‘safety planning’ comes at a whole new level!
So looking first, practically, at the adaptations I made to our home, it initially started with having a lock on the outside of my daughter’s bedroom, yes at the beginning Children’s Services were horrified to hear this too! That was until I explained that the reason I had done this was to keep her as safe as possible during meltdown. We lived in a large three storey Victorian property at the time with many large rooms which all had their own risks. So to be able to get my daughter safely in her bedroom and to be able to contain her there, until the meltdown had passed, reduced the risk of harm to herself and others.
I had to put locks on the inside of mine and my other daughter’s bedrooms. At the time my youngest was displaying behaviours that meant I was concerned for everyone’s safety whilst asleep. Her mood was so unpredictable at this time, that I couldn’t take the risk of anyone being harmed in their sleep. It also offered a bit of a sanctuary, for my older girls, knowing that they could go and lock themselves in their rooms to escape anything that may have been going on.
Eventually in time, I also had to put locks on the outside of my older daughter’s rooms, as well as my own, to try and prevent/reduce the sabotaging behaviours. If my youngest daughter was angry she would often take this out on her siblings by trashing their room, writing obscenities over the walls, destroying their make-up and toiletries etc. This only helped for a short while though as my youngest was getting taller by the day!
My daughter used to have her bedroom on the top floor, the same floor as me, however this became too dangerous for several reasons. One of the main reasons this became dangerous, was because she would often, when supposedly calm, call me from the top floor and when I used to stand in the hall way, looking up to her, she would then launch heavy objects down through the stair well at me. My thinking was that if I moved her down to the next level, then the speed and velocity that items were coming down would be reduced. I even at one point considered installing netting in the stair well, like the ones they have in prison! Everyone quickly learnt to do a big circle around the stairwell to keep out of the way of the firing line!
The other (very important) main reason to move my daughter’s bedroom down a level, was that she had started to threaten to jump out of the window! The windows on the top floor opened inwards and I definitely couldn’t take that risk!
Over time the whole house had to become minimalistic, all worktops and surfaces cleared (or as cleared as practically possible) at all times! As when my daughter became overloaded, overwhelmed, frustrated or angry, she would grab and launch anything and everything in sight. I even had to strip the dining room walls of family photos in case they were pulled off and used as a weapon.
From the age of 7, all knives and scissors were placed out of sight and in a cupboard, however as she became wise to this I had to up the safety precautions and invested in a metal lockable case which I then stored all sharps in. This in turn was kept in the cupboard, again reducing the risk of this being launched and even more unaccessible.
Just out of interest, does anyone else keep their kettle in the cupboard? I used to get many a strange look from visitors, having made them a cuppa only to find that I was then putting the kettle straight into a cupboard! The reason, of which I often had to explain, was that a freshly boiled kettle was not funny when launched at you or launched over the floor.
The downstairs toilet was adapted many times, depending on the situation at the time. It, at one point, had the lock removed to prevent my daughter locking herself in there and refusing to come out despite often being extremely late for school and work or indeed to prevent her locking herself in and trying to harm herself. The lock was also, at one point, reinstated when it became apparent that there was a need for me to have a bolt hole and place of safety!
I also installed CCTV. This was for a couple of reasons, firstly it was to enable me to check what my daughter was up to when out of sight (ie one outside her bedroom) or what she may have been up to when I was asleep (this was pre melatonin days) but also it was a good way for me to look back over incidents and see if there was anything I could have done better or differently whilst managing an incident.
As the behaviours, in particular the violence, escalated and the risk of having to call the police increased, I decided to have a ‘history marker’ put on our property. A history marker is used by the police to identify properties that are high risk so if they have a call come in it’s made a priority. The risk was for the safety of all of us. This was once put to the test when I unfortunately had to call the police, they were there within 12 mins! The other bonus of having a History Marker on the property, was I then had the opportunity to give the police the low down on my daughter’s conditions that were impacting her behaviour, in the hope that they would manage the situation appropriately should they be called.
How scary is it to think that I even had to draw up an ‘Emergency Plan’ which I attached to the fridge?! The Emergency Plan consisted of a step-by-step instruction guide for my daughter to follow should she knock me unconscious by something that had been launched. It included how to call 999, what to say to the operator (including that she is autistic, what had happened and that she was alone with me) and also included a list of contact numbers (ie her sister, my friend, my mum) to call them to notify them of what had happened and again that she was on her own. Not your average safe planning for your child eh?
There were several times that my daughter would become angry in the car and following a full on physical attack and me having to quickly pull the car over, I decided, for the safety of other drivers, I needed to have a warning sticker on the back of the car. Our warning sticker reads: ‘Caution – May Brake Suddenly. Autistic Child On Board’.
Whilst out and about, particularly when my daughter was younger, the main risk was roads and traffic. My daughter had no road sense when angry or frustrated. So I would always have to hold on to her tightly particularly when nearing a road. There was one really scaring incident that happened when she was just 7 years old. We had gone out to the shops armed with her pocket money that she had intended to buy her sister a birthday present with, however the draw of a game (she used to play in school with her 1:1) that she had seen in a charity shop was just too much of a temptation! Having bought the game, she then become so overwhelmed with guilt and frustration that she hadn’t bought her sister a birthday present, that she wanted to ‘kill herself’! It was only by my quick reaction that I managed to pull her back from stepping straight out into the path of a car!
Some or all of these safety measures may sound extreme but in reality they weren’t, they were all necessary in an attempt to reduce risk and keep everyone safe, not least my daughter.
There is no end to the constant risk assessing and safety planning, but I will continue to do whatever I can in the hope to reduce risk of harm to us all.