Caring for Children with Disabilities Amid Hurricane Harvey

How do natural disasters impact people with disabilities?

As Texans continue to reel in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, those on the autism spectrum face a unique set of challenges.

For a population that thrives on routine, a natural disaster could throw them off their game. This is why advocates have stepped up their efforts to provide every possible means of comfort in this uncertain time. Going from shelter to shelter, nonprofits such as The Autism Society of Texas, for example, come equipped with items that provide sensory assistance, including fidget toys, stuffed animals, weighted blankets, earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones.

This group is assisting with the help of FEMA and the Red Cross. In addition, the Red Cross is seeking volunteers who have professional experience in respite care as well as behavioral intervention for those adjusting to life with 40,000 people under the same roof. Experts advise parents to make a quiet space that is dimly lit and for venues to provide itineraries with meal times so people with autism can have a sense of structure.

As always happens with these situations, what about the caretakers? For people who put all of their energy into the wellbeing of someone else, how can they cope with the situation? Suzanne Potts, executive director of the Autism Society of Texas and a licensed social worker, advises parents to find room for some much needed "me" time, saying, according to the Houston Chronicle, "Focus on the here and now — don't look too far forward or too far back … Manage your own self-care. Take a walk if it's safe."

The Easter Seals of Greater Houston is also stepping up to the plate by offering emergency funding to families in need who have costly expenses such as wheelchairs and assistive devices.

Another way to manage the psychological toll that this situation has on the autistic community is to keep their minds occupied. This could be as simple as card games or sharpening their math skills.

According to the Chronicle, Ingrid Monroy of the nonprofit Mikey's Place, which serves children with disabilities in the greater Houston area, reported, "Think old-school entertainment — especially if the power is off, they need some kind of physical activity to burn off steam."

As special reports and human interest pieces flood cable and network news alike, we often forget the most vulnerable — but it is often the most vulnerable who don't get a seat at the table at planning meetings.

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