Injury prevention for children with disabilities.

Little injury data exists for children who have disabilities. There is an urgent need to address injury prevention and to improve safety standards for this group. Understanding the epidemiology of injuries will allow clinicians to accurately advise patients and their families on individual risks and counsel them in steps to take to reduce those risks. Safety information must be tailored to consider each child’s functional impairments. All children who have disabilities are at risk for maltreatment. Open discussion of this problem is warranted given the immensity of the problem. Identifying parental concerns and supporting parents in the use of respite resources are appropriate. For children who have problems in mobility, falls are the number one concern. Collaboration with reliable vendors and therapists that adhere to standards for safe seating is essential for reducing the risk of wheelchair tips and falls. In addition, therapists should be directed to provide mobility training for activities from safe transfers to street crossing in a community setting. Parents should be counseled to approach their child’s injury risk based on the child’s cognitive and behavioral level rather than their chronological level. Knowledge of the child’s developmental quotient or intelligence quotient will also allow the clinician to accurately formulate an injury prevention plan. Many children will always need supervision for tasks that put them in situations of injury risk (i.e., swimming, street crossing, bathing). Sensorineural deficits such as blindness or deafness create significant alterations in negotiating the environment and an increased risk of injury. Awareness of the special needs for fire risk reduction and street safety are critical in this population. The collection of injury data is critical to define the scope of the problem and to influence changes in policy and the development of technical standards. Educational efforts focused on safety should include pediatricians, rehabilitative therapists, social workers, teachers, parents, and—most importantly—the empowerment of children as they age injury-free into adults.

Suggested Strategies: A national injury surveillance system for children who have disabilities should be developed to identify injury risk factors for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities should be monitored as a separate risk group in data collection regarding injuries. Parents should be aware of the cognitive level of their child and its influence on their injury risk. Crash testing on passenger restraints should include crash dummies whose physical characteristics resemble those of children who have disabilities. Families should have an emergency evacuation plan with specific consideration of their disabled child in the event of an emergency. Risk of burns to insensate skin and risks of thermal and friction trauma should be discussed when appropriate. The fire department and the police department should be notified of the presence of a child who has a disability in the home. Parents must be aware of the risk of falls to children who are mobile but cognitively impaired and to those in wheelchairs regardless of cognitive ability. Hospitals must have Child Protective Services teams with specific training in abuse to children with disabilities. Discussion of maltreatment risk should be addressed during routine office visits and appropriate resources should be made available to provide support to families. Educational programs should be developed to alert providers to the risks of abuse of children who have disabilities.