With much of the US reporting record highs and temperatures with a heat index of over 100° (109° last week in PA!), it is important to be aware of hot weather safety. Adding to the challenge is the temperature dysregulation that is often prevalent for individuals with special needs and sensory challenges, often making it difficult to determine if someone may be presenting symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Individuals with heat intolerance may present reactions to the heat that are physical (flushing, fatigue, seizures, muscle cramps) or behavioral (irritability, non-compliance, hyperactivity) in nature and everyone should be monitored for such. Although experts recommend modifying plans to limit exposure to temperatures for those with heat intolerance, often times the summer is spent in Extended School Year, camp placements, respite, or Summer Therapeutic Activity Programs (STAP).
As a behavioral consultant, I would also advise monitoring any behavioral changes. Remember that stress often relates to behavioral changes, and heat and extreme weather can be a source of stress. Some teachers report students becoming lethargic or irritable and recommend offering relaxing activities, largely based on sensory preferences. Please remember that some individuals, even those who are verbal, may have difficulty identifying the heat as the source of their behavior or discomfort. As the body begins to demonstrate heat-related symptoms, confusion and communication challenges may be seen in anyone. If a change in behavior is noted, regardless of the heat index value, consider whether temperature may be influencing the individual. What one individual perceives as too hot, may vary widely from person to person.
MitoAction.org provides recommendations to help those with heat sensitivities in the summer temperatures. Although the list was developed for those with mitochondrial disease, it is helpful to keep in mind for anyone with heat sensitivities or intolerance.
Some recommendations include:
- Stay hydrated, including eating fruits and vegetables.
- Provide misting fans or squirt bottles and inexpensive box fans, when air-conditioning is not available (these clip on to a belt loop!)
- Consider options such as cooling vests to aid evaporation. This company, Silver Eagle Outfitters, offers options that can be customized to work around those who need physical accommodations.
Regardless of cause, if behavioral changes, or physiological signs of heat-related illness are noted, the CDC recommends:
- Drink water
- Wear loose-fitting and light-colored clothing
- Schedule strenuous activities for cooler times of the day
A few additional, behavioral, recommendations for dealing with the heat:
- Provide structured breaks or visual prompts for individuals to get a drink (i.e., “take a drink” included in a visual schedule)
- Ensure proper cooling and ventilation in any set “break” or “cool down” areas provided (i.e., a sensory corner or time out area)
- Add a space on behavioral graphs or daily camp notes for temperature to be written, even a daily average may provide insight on an individual’s temperature tolerance
- Modify activities to encourage cooling (i.e., freeze washcloths/water bombs to play “Get Out of My Backyard” or keep an individual’s Chewelry in a cooler, if ice is not available)
- Have an emergency response plan in place for everyone present- including staff
Of course, if symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke are present, or if dramatic changes in behavior are noted, seek medical attention.
Overall, monitor for any changes in behavior, as they may be heat related and engage in safe, fun, outdoor activities this summer!
What are you doing to beat this summer heat? Please leave a comment below and share your advice.