According to the CDC, one out of every five children has a special healthcare need, which can range from an allergy to a developmental delay to a mobility limitation. The parents of these children are experts at setting and keeping routines in order to fully meet their child’s physical, emotional or behavioral needs. But what happens when that routine is disrupted by an emergency or other extenuating circumstances, and resources are limited?

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the urgent need to quarantine served as a global reminder that we should be prepared at all times for emergencies. The threat of natural disasters, severe illnesses and limited resources is something we should be aware of – especially for caretakers with special needs children. It can be upsetting to think about worst-case scenarios, but having an emergency plan can give you peace of mind knowing you are prepared. 

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, here are a few things you can do to prepare your family for emergencies. 

1. Write it all down. 

Creating emergency documents is a great way to make sure your child’s needs are communicated to those in charge if you are not present. These documents should include details about your child’s: 

  • Routine, including how much exercise they get, what foods they eat and when, what medicines they take and when, and bedtime routines. 

  • Triggers, with instructions for calming them when they are upset.

  • Strengths and challenges related to their special need. 

  • Allergies to medications or food, plus any foods they will not eat.

  • Primary doctors, pharmacists, specialists and close family members

  • Medical history, including any surgeries or procedures.  

The Center for Children with Special Needs’ care team has created forms to print, fill out and distribute to your child’s grandparents, teachers, doctor’s office and friends’ houses. You can find the printable PDF at

2. Teach your children safety protocols. 

Children with special needs might have trouble communicating, making decisions or understanding certain concepts. In those cases, parents should work more closely with their children to make sure they understand safety concepts that could mean life or death in emergency situations. These concepts include: 

  • Using safety rails and safety bars

  • The appropriate response to a fire alarm

  • When to use life jackets and seatbelts

Parents may need to get creative to teach their children these concepts. Every child is different and learns in unique ways, so it is important to employ a variety of methods. One method that may help your kids remember safety protocols is to rehearse and practice emergency situations monthly or bi-monthly.

3. Create a family emergency kit. 

You can get the entire family involved in helping create a family emergency kit by making it a scavenger hunt. You will need a large plastic bin to put things in, a checklist of the items you need to put in it and a predetermined location in your home where you will keep the kit. This kit should include extra medications, safety equipment, a 3-day supply of special dietary foods and your child’s favorite toys. You can find a CDC-suggested checklist of items for your emergency kit here

Every child’s needs are fundamentally different. These are just a few examples of things parents can do to be ready to care for a child with special needs in the midst of an emergency. 

All information courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).