During the warm summer months, it’s natural to want to get outside and take advantage of the welcoming sunshine. Summertime can also put children at an increased risk of injury or other health complications. Here are some of our tips for protecting your special needs child in the summer.

Five Summer Safety Tips for Kids

1. Keep children properly hydrated and 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. For these reasons, taking the right steps to preventing a child from getting dehydrated during the summer months is imperative. To avoid serious reactions to the heat, a special needs child should avoid outdoor activities during the heat of day. Also, adequate air conditioning in the bedroom, on a school bus, and in the classroom are essential to their summer safety.

The heat of the day can also have a negative effect on a child who has asthma or a chronic lung disease—the air quality index can be poor, making it difficult for a child to breathe. That’s why staying indoors in an air-conditioned environment is critical.

2. Protect children from 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 clothing
  • 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

Always be prepared if you plan an extended outing with your child—pack a cooler with ice, cold drinks, food, or formula, and bring any medication or supplies you need to keep your child safe and comfortable

3. Recognize signs and symptoms of heat stroke in children

  • High body temperature
  • The absence of sweating, with hot red or flushed dry skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Strange behavior
  • Agitation
  • Seizure
  • Coma

If heat stroke is suspected, get medical help immediately by calling a physician or 911. 

4. Be aware of surfaces that can burn sensitive skin

Some special needs children—particularly an individual 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 a child is safe and comfortable because he or she is sitting in a wheelchair. The metal frame of the wheelchair can cause burns from the direct sun and as the cushions heat up by the sun exposure, the plastic covers may cause excessive sweating, leading to dehydration and skin breakdown.

5. Observe water safety protocols

As with all water safety protocols, be sure to take the same water safety precautions as you would with any child including:

  • Never leave children alone in or near the water, even for a minute.
  • Do not leave a child in a wheelchair 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.
  • When boating, everyone on board should always be wearing a properly fitted life jacket, especially the children on the boat. In addition, a special needs child should also wear a well-fitting life jacket (typical or adaptive) at all times when they are near a pool, lake, hot tub, or any open water.

Summertime should be fun and relaxing; however, keeping a child who has special needs safe during the summer months requires some forethought. Preventing a child from dehydration, heat stroke or heat exhaustion, as well as remaining safe around water, can be easily accomplished while having fun in the sun!

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