Disaster Preparedness for Your Special Needs Child

by Karen Ansel, MS RD

Disaster Preparedness for Your Special Needs Child

Whether it’s a blizzard, hurricane, earthquake or tornado, you want to be prepared when a disaster strikes. That’s especially true when caring for a child with special needs. “For some children with special nutrition needs, specific foods, formulas or methods of eating are essential,” says Sharon Feucht, MA, RD, CD, a registered dietitian at the Center on Human Development and Disability at the University of Washington. “However, in a disaster most of these will not be readily available at sites set up to help those who have experienced an emergency.”

If you care for a child with special needs, disaster preparedness is critical. Here’s how to make sure you’re not taken by surprise:

  • Create a care notebook: A care notebook details your child’s medical history and health-care information in a single document. This can be an invaluable source of information in the event that you are separated from your child or are unable to give instructions regarding his or her care. A care notebook may include immunization records, a medication list with dosing instructions, doctor and hospital reports, test results and phone numbers of care providers and emergency contacts. Once you’ve completed the notebook, give a copy to anyone who cares for your child and be sure a copy is with your child at all times by putting it in his or her backpack or wheelchair bag.
  • Make a roadmap: Design a backup plan in the event that you lose power or don’t have access to your usual medical equipment. This may include knowing how to measure and prepare your child’s formula without power or a scale. You should also be prepared to ration formula. Your child’s health-care provider can instruct you on the steps you need to follow, as well as alternative foods and formulas that are safe to feed your child in an emergency.
  • Spread the word: In addition to making a list of friends and family to call for help, get to know your local police and fire department. By alerting emergency personnel to your child’s needs ahead of time, they’ll better be able to understand how to help your child if disaster strikes. Also, consider purchasing a MedicAlert bracelet. “If your child should become separated from you or a caregiver, the bracelet may be the best source of information for emergency personnel, especially if your child experiences medical complications or is injured,” says Feucht.
  • Stock up: Because you may not have access to essentials, build an emergency backup supply. Experts recommend 3 to 7 days worth of food, a 2-week formula reserve, plus 1 gallon of water per person per day. Medication may also be an issue, so keep at least enough for 2 weeks on hand as well. And don’t forget non-food supplies such as feeding bags, syringes, batteries and a battery-operated radio.

Despite the best plans, power outages may make it difficult to keep food and formula fresh. Even if you are able to remain in your home, a local emergency shelter may be able to provide a refrigerator to keep food and formula safe, help you recharge batteries and provide medical care.

Reviewed March 2013

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About the author:

Karen M Ansel MS RD

Karen Ansel, MS RD




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