This is a guest post by Shelley Hendrix, the Director of State Based Advocacy at Autism Speaks.
I suppose I should have been paying closer attention when President Obama declared a State of Emergency for Louisiana earlier this month but the skies were blue and the warm spring breezes just didn’t seem full of danger. I have lived in Louisiana for almost 33 years. Through Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Autism.
When you have a child with autism navigating the uncertainties of a natural disaster are that much more complicated. Nothing with autism is ever easy but when you are preparing to evacuate or trying to rebuild AND manage your child’s needs in a world that has just turned completely upside down – well, most people would have a hard time imagining how overwhelming that truly can be.
Down here in South Louisiana all eyes are on the Mississippi River and the Morganza Spillway as we wait for a scheduled natural disaster this time. All of the snowstorms in winter 2010-11 have combined with spring showers supposed to bring May flowers that are bringing us your Liquid Blizzard-State of Emergency instead. Governor Jindal of Louisiana stated around noon today that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers will open the floodgates of the Morganza Spillway just north of where I live as early as Saturday morning and certainly by Sunday, May 15 to relieve pressure on the Baton Rouge levee system just a few miles away. Opening the spillway will send a 15-20 foot high wall of water, once they open the gates completely, that will spread all the way down to the Gulf Coast.
The spillway has not been opened for this purpose since it was built back in the fifties, although it was opened partially in 1973. Watching the Army Corp of Engineers scramble to fix and fortify levees when they were so non-chalant about the levees in New Orleans for Katrina has everyone wondering is this a lesson learned or if we need to all be freaking out? The Corp released maps demonstrating potential flood zones for the Morganza Spillway, Morgan City, Baton Rouge, New Orleans and all areas in between.
This is not a drill. Officials are extremely concerned and people in forecasted flood zones need to evacuate immediately. The water will come. You will be stranded. It’s not worth it. So get out now.
If you are one of those families evacuating here are some special things to do if you have a child with autism:
· Grab your IEP and any pertinent medical records or evaluations you may have on hand. Your IEP is a federal document and can help you settle your child in an alternate school setting more quickly if you have it on hand.
· Bring identification for your children: birth certificates, passports, etc.
· Bring copies of all of your billing statements, bank statements, etc. Bills don’t stop even if floods come.
· If you have purchased flood insurance ahead of time, you can go here to check your policy and see what additional requirements they may need for you to file a claim more quickly.
· Pack enough medicines or special dietary needs for at least three weeks. Flood waters are expected to last until mid-June. Shipments of new supplies to our area may be difficult or impossible. Bring copies of prescriptions with you or be sure you have refills scheduled with a national pharmacy that can access them electronically.
· Bring item will help your child adjust to their new surroundings with some of their comforts from home – favorite toys, DVDs and computer games.
· If you use Assisted Technology Devices – don’t forget those and just in case record the device name, manufacturer’s name & information, model and serial numbers, vendor (Store’s/Seller’s) name and info, date of purchase and copy of receipt if available, copy of Doctor’s or Therapist’s prescription if available and contact and funder’s (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid, Insurance Co.) name, contact info, & policy numbers.
· If staying in a shelter bring headphones or earplugs to help with noise.
· Call the Red Cross prior to evacuating to ask them which shelters accommodate people with special needs. Upon arrival to any shelter, let them know your child has autism and explain what your specific child may need. Ask if there is a room or office where your family could stay if your child is a wandering risk.
· LA DOTD has set up an emergency hotline for road closures. Just dial 511 for information.
· Write down emergency contact numbers or put them into your cell phones including The Coast Guard – especially if you decide to ride this one out.
· Remember children with autism are particularly drawn to water. With waters rising this quickly you will want to keep an extra eye on them if you are not fully out of harm’s way. Keep an eye out for snakes, alligators and balls of fire ants. Floodwaters are full of trash, debris and bacteria like e Coli so stay out of them.
· With any weather/water related emergency, electricity can be interrupted affecting bank ATMs and gas pumps. Be sure to have your car gas tanks full and additional gas on hand. Take cash out each day prior to evacuating as credit cards may not work due to electrical interruptions.
· When you leave your home cut off the main electrical grid and gas main to the house. This will make it safer for officials, flood recovery personnel and for your return.
· Empty your refrigerator and freezer or place contents in hefty bags and leave them in there. If your house doesn’t flood, you will thank me when all you have to do is reach in there and pull out a bag quickly!
· If you are stubborn enough to stay, make sure you have access to your attic and keep an axe or other tool handy so you can escape to the roof as water comes up.
If there is one thing I have learned, families of children with autism are resilient. So are the families of South Louisiana. Stay dry and stay safe.
Although families are in a critical situation in South Louisiana, it is a good idea for every family to have an emergency plan in place to know what you would do during a crisis. Take time to scan your important documents and store them with online storage so they are accessible.
If your family needs assistance after any natural disaster – here, from the floods in Memphis or tornado destruction in Alabama, Georgia or Tennessee, please contact Autism Cares or our Family Services department at 888 AUTISM2 or firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how we can help.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has made a proclamation designating April as Autism Awareness Month in Louisiana. They’ll kick it off with the Old Governor’s Mansion participating in “Light It Up Blue” and have April for awareness raising efforts and activities.
How will you be Lighting It Up Blue to promote autism awareness, beginning this Thursday and Friday? Visit www.lightitupblue.org to host an event or find one in your area.
Want to Light It Up Blue online? Check out our web downloads, including one you can use as your Facebook profile picture.
Here are suggested status updates you can use on Facebook and Twitter:
Light it up blue today for the 1 in 110 children with autism. Visit lightitupblue.org to help us shine a bright light on #autism
I am donating my status today for World Autism Awareness Day. Visit autismspeaks.org to learn more and get involved #autism
Stay tuned for more great ideas and be sure to share with us how you plan to Light It Up Blue by commenting below.