Posted: July 5, 2016
Believe it or not, there are plenty of people out there who hate summer. With significant heat in most of the country, and some areas absolutely sweltering with high temperatures and humidity, it can be a very uncomfortable season. Children with special needs, including Cerebral Palsy, can be especially vulnerable to extreme heats. If your child is immobile or struggles to get around, heat can be an extremely troublesome issue.
Symptoms of Heat Exposure
Nobody intentionally leaves their child in an uncomfortable temperature, let alone those environments that could put their health at risk. However, whether due to poor air circulation, distractions, or subtle changes in the environment, etc., harmful heat exposure can, and does, occur. Parents should be aware of the following symptoms of extended heat exposure that can be damaging to their child’s health:
- Sleepiness or difficulty to wake
- Weakness beyond usual circumstances
- Fever/high body core temperature
- Dark urine
- Dry mouth
- Pale skin
- Increased heartbeat
- Extensive sweating over a short period of time
If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing symptoms related to heat, it is important to contact a health professional immediately. Heat exposure is unique in that it can cause damage to the brain. Children with special needs may not be able to speak up or communicate clearly when something is wrong; it’s always better to err on the side of caution than to ‘wait and see.’
How Heat Can Harm a Child
Tragically, far too many children suffer severe health problems, even death, due to excessive exposure to heat. Though more attention is often spent on children left in an overheated car, that does not mean that ongoing exhaustion, dehydration and more cannot be extremely detrimental to the health of a child with special needs, including Cerebral Palsy. Heat stress is a real predicament for children with special needs. As such, we believe more information is critical on this topic.
One thing many parents don’t realize is that certain medications can create additional problems for those facing increased heat. Be sure to speak with your child’s doctor to best understand how medications may pose a unique risk for your child in warm weather.
Heat can harm a child with special needs specifically due to the inability of some children with conditions like Cerebral Palsy to clearly communicate their symptoms or feelings. Beyond the brain damage that can come with heat exposure (heatstroke), your child can face prolonged health challenges due to poor hydration and see a doctor if you fear their health has been compromised.
Keeping a Child with Cerebral Palsy Cool
Fortunately, most of the things that work for your average adult or child can work for children with special needs. While a trip to the local waterpark may not be an option if the location is not easily accessible, there are ideas that might be considered common sense, as well as some outside the box ideas that can significantly help your child.
Consider the following ideas for helping your child’s temperature managed and under control this summer:
- Ensure your child is in a well-ventilated room whenever possible
- Bathe your child in cool water before bed. If your child has mobility barriers and an extra bath is not an option, use a damp cloth to keep skin from drying out and body temperature from getting too high.
- Have your child wear lightweight clothing when possible. While this is probably part of your current plan, consider supplementing your child’s wardrobe with light fabrics and more. Even if these are only worn around the house, it can be a significant part of managing your child’s temperature long-term.
- Dress your child in a hat and sunscreen, perhaps using baby-centric cream to avoid irritation of the skin. Avoid going out between 11 AM and 3 PM
- Use fans, but not pointed at your child directly. Circulating the air in a room can be crucial in shifting temperatures and keeping your child’s core body temp down. A large bottle of frozen water can help cool the air in the room as well.
- Try when possible to use air conditioning. While energy usage associated with A/C can be expensive, there are also resources we provide families that help with these bills. Call us at (800) 692-4453 for more information!
- ‘Steal’ air conditioning by visiting public places that keep the temperature down. An early morning movie can be significantly discounted and provide fun for your family while also helping provide some much needed cool air!
- Stay hydrated. Whether through drinking water or creating frozen versions of your everyday beverages, making sure your child is getting more fluids than you might immediately consider is important.
A valuable lesson on staying hydrated many of our community will recognize
- Cooling mattress, cooling pillow or other helpful ‘temperature’ inserts. There are a number of options in this arena, including mattresses that are built and made up of specific materials that promote temperature control. Note: if you shop through the link above, Amazon will donate to the MyChild Cerebral Palsy Foundation.
- Put a thermometer in your child’s room. Doing so can help prevent you from being unaware about the specific temperature of that room, help you see which methods work best to reduce heat in there and more.
- Consider a wading pool or small sprinkler that can allow your child to have a small amount of cool fun in the sun. Even if it’s just putting his or her feet in the water, this can feel pleasant while also providing important help for temperature management. It also crosses into the realm of providing an activity that helps with feelings of inclusion for those children with significant challenges.
- Get creative with your ideas! There’s a number of unique ideas out there, including spray bottle freeze tag, water paint and more! You can even try making ice necklaces!
- Perhaps most important: never leave your child alone in a car.
Getting Help With Keeping Your Child Cool
The important thing for any parent to realize is that there may be more help available than you realize. Beyond the help we can provide in connecting you with programs to help with energy bill costs, there are often community entities that help connect families in need with things like fans, bottled water, cooling stations and more. We encourage you to reach out to your area’s Department of Public Health or Social Services to see what options you may have – you might not know that there are a wealth of additional options already available near you!
While some of these ideas may already be a staple of your summer planning, we hope that others have inspired you. Ultimately, our main focus is to help keep your child with special needs safe and healthy this summer! But we want to hear from you: what are some ideas we missed when it comes to keeping your child cool this summer? Let us know in the Forum!