Nearly 1 out of every 5 children in the United States has a special healthcare need. Children and youth with special healthcare needs (CYSHCN), also known as children with special healthcare needs (CSHCN), require more care for their physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional differences than their typically developing peers. A special healthcare need can include physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities, as well as long-standing medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or a muscular dystrophy.
All children have unique needs in emergencies, but care for children with special healthcare needs is often more complex because of their various health conditions and extra care requirements. They may have a hard time moving from one place to another, urgent or constant medical needs, difficulty communicating or have trouble with transitioning to different situations. A disaster can present all these difficulties at once. Knowing what to do can help maintain calm and keep your family safe. Read more about the real stories of children with special healthcare needs preparing for and responding to emergencies.
Planning is key. It is important for families to have an emergency care plan in place in case a public health emergency like a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or disease outbreak occurs. If there is a child with special healthcare needs in your family, you and your family can prepare by developing a written emergency care plan and practicing your plan. For example, a plan can include medicines or assistance devices that your child needs. If possible, let your child help make the plan. Healthcare providers can work with families of children with special healthcare needs to make sure the child’s needs are covered in the family emergency plan and to identify support networks in your community.
Appropriate response. Stay as connected as possible with children and with others, as these connections can help in providing care and support in an emergency while distracting children to lessen their worries and anxiety. Talk to children about what is happening in a way that they can understand. Keep it simple and consider the child’s age and type of disability. For example, it may be hard to know how much information a child with autism is learning through television and conversations. Adults may have to look for clues that provide information on the feelings and fears of these children.