Viral Seat Belt Covers Help Parents of Kids with Special Needs Plan for Emergencies

In case the worst happens, how can parents make sure emergency responders know their kids' medical needs?

viral seat belt covers
Courtesy Personalised by Nat.

These innovative seat belt covers are going viral for the best reason: they were created to keep kids safe in case the worst happens and a parent or caretaker can’t share medical details with emergency responders or doctors.

“I am deaf. I have a cochlear implant,” the label reads. “No MRI.” Other seat belt covers include styles reading, “I am Autistic. I may resist help,” “I have diabetes. Insulin dependent,” and “I have Down Syndrome. I may resist help.” The viral seat belt covers were made by Australian company Personalised by Nat based on her own experience with her daughter, who is deaf.

“I always wonder what would happen if I was in a car accident with my daughter in the car and I was unable to let the doctors know that my daughter could not have a MRI due to having a cochlear implant,” Nat wrote on the website.

The seat belt covers went viral on Facebook, with more than 700,000 shares, 190,000 likes and 40,000 comments. But as clever and well-intentioned as these seat belt covers are, there may be safety issues with adding an accessory to a seat belt (and you should never add anything to a car seat that’s not made specifically to go with that car seat).

Though parents are excited about the seat belt covers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “does not recommend attaching any accessories to the seat belt” as these items could interfere with the belt’s function and performance.” If you choose to add something to a seat belt, “it should not interfere with the retraction of the seat belt or degrade the belt’s webbing material” because that’s what keeps kids safe inside the straps.

One thing you can add to a car seat or booster without safety worries to help warn emergency responders of a child’s medical needs? A sticker, Barb Abdalla, director of emergency services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, told You could even use language like Nat’s, with bright colors and pictures.

Choosing a Medical ID

If you’re trying to decide whether your child should have some form of medical ID, Abdalla suggests weighing the consequences. For an allergy that results in a rash, you probably don’t need one. But for an allergy that causes anaphylactic shock, seizures, or diabetes, a medical ID could be a good idea. And since a child will be removed from their car seat or seat belt in case of emergency, you likely want a medical ID that will move with the child.

“There are medical ID bracelets and necklaces and sports bands and sports straps and Fitbits and dog tags and lots of different decorative options,” said Sandy Schefkind, pediatric program manager at the American Occupational Therapy Association. “What a child would find hopefully not restrictive or unpleasant, and might even like it.”

She suggests giving kids choices in style, texture, and color, especially if they have sensory processing differences. “If your wrists are more sensitive, you're not going to put a sports strap around your wrist. They might do better with a necklace,” Schefkind explained. “Or vice versa. The jostling of a necklace, that it's hitting against you, that may not be good.”

If you get a child involved in choosing their medical ID and they like what they choose, there’s a better chance that they’ll actually wear it. But Abdalla warns about going too stylish.

“Sometimes the manufacturers actually make them so they look more like jewelry, so it's harder to tell,” she said. “It's always good to have that big red medical symbol on it so you can tell it is a medical ID bracelet.”

What to Put on a Medical ID

There are three main categories for information that goes on a medical ID: allergies, diseases, and different abilities. Allergies are listed on a medical ID as “No (fill in the blank for bees, penicillin, or peanuts). Diseases often have medical abbreviations to save space, and you can talk to your doctor about how to best list conditions such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes, or blood disorders. For kids who have different abilities (whether they use a wheelchair or are blind or deaf), it’s helpful to list that on a medical ID.

For parents wanting to describe behavioral triggers (such as for kids with autism), you should use "as brief of words as possible that would be able to fit on the back of there without having a magnifying glass to be able to see it," said Abdalla. This could also include what escalates certain behaviors or helps alleviate them, for example, “Triggers: Loud sounds.”

If parents are worried specifically about kids being triggered and resisting help from a paramedic or doctor, Schefkind also suggests going on a family outing to meet your neighborhood paramedics or to tour your local hospital so kids can recognize the uniforms as someone ready to help.

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