ASD and Fire Alarms

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How to Prepare for a Fire

Fire alarms are important elements in fire and life safety systems. They help alert us of fire and ensure that we are able to exit quickly and safely. As protective as fire alarms are they are also loud, bright, and disruptive. This can difficult for everyone to manage with, but it is especially challenging for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What is ASD

The CDC describes Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges”. People with ASD may behave, interact, and communicate differently than other people. This means that they can have a range of problem solving, thinking, and learning skills. The CDC states that “some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less”.

The Autism Society reports that 1% people in the world have ASD and about “more than 3.5 million Americans live with [ASD]”.

Tips for Fire Drills

People who have ASD may have challenges with a change in schedule, loud noises, and bright lights; all of which are present when a fire alarm goes off. These drills can be overstimulating and difficult for people with ASD to comply with.

If you are a teacher or aid and struggle with your ASD students during fire drills here are some tips to help ease their discomfort:

  • Have staff members assigned ahead of time to students that need extra attention.
  • Stay calm, kids feed off of adults frustration.
  • Assign student buddies so they can stick together.
  • Practice fire drills frequently, even when they are not school wide.
  • Familiarize students with the sound of a fire alarm and the lights from the strobes.
Preparing for a Fire

In order to try and prevent any accidental fires the Autism Society recommends that you:

  • Keep lighters and matches out of reach.
  • Place safety covers on stove and oven knobs.
  • Always supervise children around open flames.

It is also important that you actively start a dialog about fire. The Autism Society calls this a social story. They describe a social story as “a short, personalized story that explains the subtle cues in social situations and breaks down a situation or task into easy-to-follow steps”.

When developing a social story about fire you can use words, illustrations, and pictures to talk about topics like:

  • Smoke alarms
  • Fire alarms
  • Fire drills
  • Firemen
  • Fire trucks
  • Touching fire

You can also use these social stories to help practice what your child is supposed to do in the event of a fire. This can help you and your family make an evacuation plan that is designated to your family’s needs.

It is important to practice the following:

  • Stop, drop, and roll.
  • Touch the door knob and see if it is hot before opening the door.
  • The buddy system – one person in the family should be a designated buddy for someone with ASD. This buddy will be responsible to get the person with ASD out of the house and to safety.
Working with Fire Departments

As a caretaker or family member of someone with ASD you can also talk to your local fire department to help make a plan. The Autism Society says that, “many community fire departments can provide stickers (called tot finders) for children’s bedroom windows so that in the event of a fire, firefighters can locate a child’s bedroom quickly”.

You can also talk to your local fire department and alert them about your ASD loved one. This will help the fire department be familiar with your property and needs. Some important things to inform the fire department of are:

  • Description of loved one.
  • Location of the loved one’s room.
  • Where your loved one might flee in an emergency.

-The IFS Team