During the warm summer months, it’s natural to want to get outside and take advantage of the welcoming sunshine. However, summertime can put children with special needs at an increased risk of injury or other health complications. To help avoid these, there are several steps you can take:
Make sure your child is always properly hydrated and sufficiently cool
There are many reasons why children with special needs are more susceptible to serious heat-related conditions including heat stroke. Certain medications can cause dryness in the mouth, increased sensitivity to the sun, or impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature or perspire.
In addition, some children who are neurologically impaired cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to higher temperatures without significant effect on their core body temperature. These children should avoid outdoor activities during the heat of day. Efforts should be made to provide air conditioning in the bedroom, school buses and classrooms to avoid serious reactions to the heat.
The heat can also have a negative effect on children with asthma or chronic lung diseases. During the heat of day, the air quality index can be poor, making it difficult for these children to breathe. Staying indoors in an air-conditioned environment is important to keep these children healthy.
To avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke:
- Stay in an air conditioned area
- Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid drinks with caffeine or a lot of sugar
- Drink fluids at least 30 minutes before going outside
- Apply sunscreen SPF 15 or higher at least 30 minutes prior to going outside, even on cloudy days. Re-apply every two hours or after swimming or sweating
- Wear wide-brimmed hats, and light-colored, loose-fitting clothes
- Eat more frequently, and be sure meals are well-balanced, cool, and light
- Avoid outdoor activities from 10am to 4pm, which is the hottest part of the day
Common symptoms and signs of heat stroke include:
- High body temperature
- The absence of sweating, with hot red or flushed dry skin
- Rapid pulse
- Difficulty breathing
- Strange behavior
If heat stroke is suspected, get medical help immediately by calling a physician or 911.
Be aware of surfaces that can burn sensitive skin
Some children – particularly those with spina bifida – have decreased sensitivity to heat and may not realize they are being burned by hot pavement or other surfaces.
Also, don’t assume your child is safe and comfortable because he or she is sitting in a wheelchair. The cushions heat up and the plastic covers may cause excessive sweating, which can lead to dehydration and skin breakdown; metal frames can cause burns in direct sun.
Take water safety very seriously
Take all of the same precautions you would for any child including:
- Never leave children alone in or near the water, even for a minute.
- Do not leave a child in a wheel chair parked near a pool.
- Install motion detectors, alarms, or safety locks on all pools, hot tubs, or other water sources around your home.
- If you have a pool, it should have a fence that has four sides, is at least four feet high, and is self-latching and secured.
Wear a properly fitted life jacket every time you and your loved ones go boating. Use a well-fitting life jacket (typical or adaptive) to wear any time your child is near a pool, lake, hot tub, or any open water.
If you plan on an extended outing, be sure to pack a cooler of ice and cold drinks, food, or formula. Bring any medication or supplies you need to keep your child safe and comfortable.