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HOUSTON (CW39) – Hugh is 3 years old, full of life, cute as a button, and a Hurricane Ida survivor. He is my godchild, and son of Lindsey LeBlanc. He also has autism spectrum disorder. 

“The room that you guys saw is his playroom, he has an everyday routine… he likes his routine; he has a lot of sensory disorders. His normal that he functions in every single day has been disrupted.”, says Lindsey. 

Parenting during a catastrophic hurricane can be hard enough on its own, but when your child involves a little extra care and preparation, it can make tough times tougher.  

Southeast Texas is prone to Hurricanes and natural disasters just like our friends in Louisiana. Tyrrell Ann Venditti M. Ed, BCBA, LBA is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst and Certified Special Educator at the Lily Center right here in Houston. She runs an integrated preschool for children with and without disabilities in the Heights neighborhood and provides ABA services for children 0-10. She brings us tips on how parents of special needs children can prepare for these uncertain events. 

“Your child may not experience that natural disaster the same way a typically developing child would. It is even more essential that you are prepared, it is even more critical. You want to make sure you have all the prescriptions, medical supplies you need, but… any blanket at a shelter may not work for your child. They may have sensory defensiveness, it may be “too scratchy”. Pack those things, whatever that is. If you know that your child will only eat certain textures or colors of food, then you may want to prepare those things.”, says Venditti. 

Tyrell says that it may be worth your while to evacuate if you have the resources to do so. Even if it is not recommended for EVERYONE. Because your experience and your child’s experience could be that much more traumatic.  

Lindsey adds, “It is hard, but I feel like you just figure it out. We going to leave and try to get him someplace safer that will be a little more manageable for him”. 

Additional information from Tyrell Ann Venditti:

“The first thing parents should do when preparing for hurricanes is reach out to the people in that child’s life. Whether that be teachers, occupational therapist, Behavorial analysts, perhaps a pediatrician, speech therapist, etc… Ask them, ‘Specifically for my child, what do I need to do that is above and beyond those things recommended by professionals for these situations. 

The importance is magnified from what it would be for a parent of a neurotypical developing child. That is because your experience MAY is not great, so you want to be sure you follow recommendations given by FEMA, and the READYHARRIS. Have a disaster kit in place.  

Just going through your day and seeing what your child may need that’s different could be a big help. This could be a particular breakfast food, a communication device, etc. You want to be sure your child can communicate with you and with others. Whether that be though iPad, voice output device, or even sign language.  

Another part of that communication element, in the case that your child is separated from you, they need to be able to communicate who they are and where they need to get to to a first responder. That could be in the form of a medical ID, or bracelet, especially if there are medical conditions that need to be known. However, the most important information on there would be name, phone number, and some way to reach Mom and Dad. Having ample charging devices cannot be stressed enough if you are relying on technology.  

Neurodivergent individuals do sadly have an increased likelihood of severe accidents by drowning. Hurricanes bring water. Our biggest concern during hurricane season is flooding. Depending on the child, they also may not be able to respond to things such as “Hey, stay away from that, it is dangerous!”. 

Water safety is critical. Some type of swimming program is highly recommended to start incorporating into your everyday life. This goes for both non-emergencies and emergencies.

Sometimes individuals who are neurodiverse may have issues with wondering or running off. This can be dangerous after a storm. You want to make sure you have a way to prevent that in these situations.  

Shelters can be loud, bright, and noisy! That doesn’t always work for the neurodiverse population. Some of the shelters are accommodating for this. If you can, call ahead to find out if they do have a place that may be calmer and not trigger that sensory defensiveness. “