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The Autism Survival Backback

Posted Sep 21 2009 2:06pm

Taking a child with Aspergers Syndrome, autism, anxiety disorder and/or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) out of an environment where they are comfortable can be a harrowing experience for parents. Yet, the parents find it necessary to take their child to the doctor’s office, to therapy appointments, to the grocery store or even to grandparents’ house. Consider packing a “survival backpack” for those occasions.

First, consider the needs of your child. Do they have sensory needs? Are they easily bored? Do they need something for their security? Do they have medications? Is it necessary to carry around a change of clothes? Brainstorm as much as you can and jot your ideas down on a list. Don’t worry about it being a comprehensive list. After taking your survival pack out with you a few times, you’ll learn what you’re missing and what you don’t really need.

For example, if the child needs to chew on things, keep these chew items in the pack. A child with sensory needs or are picky eaters may benefit from keeping Cheerios, pretzels or other healthy snacks and drinks on hand. If the child is rigid and won’t use different cups, drinks, plates, or the like, make sure you carry these items wherever you go.

Target, Wal-Mart, and dollar stores have a great variety of travel size games. You can go high tech with handheld games (Nintendo, PSP, Leapster,) or portable DVD players. Besides packing the game cartridges and DVDs, make sure you carry extra batteries and screwdrivers. Nothing is worse than a child who has their mind set on using the item and you can’t make it work.

Low tech options are numerous. Again these stores have small E.Z. Sketch, magnetic drawing boards, travel size games with pegs (Chess, Clue, Monopoly). Small action figures, plastic dinosaurs, cars, and farm animals can provide some children hours of entertainment. Other children might like books, drawing or writing. In this case, there are a number of smaller journals, notebooks, coloring books and sketch books. Make it easy and carry along a pencil pouch filled with pencils, washable markers, and crayons. You might also consider tossing a pencil and crayon sharpener in the pouch.

As children get older, they may prefer portable music or recorded stories. MP3 players and portable CD players are becoming very affordable. A trip to the local library may net you an unending supply of music and recorded books. If your child has an MP3 player, these CDs can be transferred into their players through your computer. You won’t have to worry about the borrowed CD getting lost and the child will have the book forever. Again, if you chose to pack this in the survival back pack, make sure the MP3 player is charged. Bring extra batteries and a screwdriver for the CD players. If your child has sensory issue with noisy restaurants, shopping malls, or football games, consider investing in noise reducing headphones. Listening to something or simply having the headphones on can buy parents a little bit of extra time in these places.

When your child starts to meltdown, is there something that calms them? A security blanket? A stuff animal? A doll? Make sure this goes in the survival pack too!

Great miscellaneous items to keep in the back, provided it’s not too heavy by now:

  • Wet wipes for messy faces and sticky fingers
  • Extra clothes, especially if they are prone to accidents when under stress
  • Snacks and drinks. These are great when appointments take longer than expected or your stuck in traffic.

Now that you’ve made a list of what your child needs. You’ll want to purchase a high quality back pack.   You’ll probably use it every day and for several years. Based upon what your child needs and how long you’ll be away from home, some features included in backpacks can come in handy. The child who has a CD player can slip the player into the back of the pack and feed the earphone wire through the back. Now they can listen to music and have their hands free. If you choose to pack a number of items, multiple pockets are great, especially if some of the items carried aren’t necessarily for the child. Put batteries, screwdrivers, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and the like in a small front pocket and tell the child this pocket is for parents.


If the child is school age and has to have a backpack for school, you may want to consider investing in a separate backpack for your survival pack. Always keep this back stocked with the basic supplies and keep it handy. Based upon where you are going and how long you’ll be out, you may need to pack more or less. Once you’ve created a basic survival pack , keep it either in the car or by the door. This survival back also works great with younger children without disabilities. In the case where you have a number of children make a pack for each child and have them carry it. This eliminates the fighting. And it gives the child the ability to get what they want while you’re driving down the road or filling out insurance paperwork.


Let me know how this works for you. I’m going on my eighth year of using our survival packs. It has bought me a lot of additional time and saved me from a lot of unnecessary stress. I started a trend in our church when people saw how well behaved my children were with their survival packs. I’ve been stopped in grocery stores and doctor’s offices and complimented on this survival technique.

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