Independence is an important and vital aspect of growth as a person. Everyone strives for their own independence. At Lexington, members are encouraged to pursue independence and to work toward their goals, no matter how minute or lofty. When working to develop and reinforce independence for people with ASD, it’s important to strive toward those goals, but safety needs to be at the core of each activity. Whether it’s expanding in community involvement, developing the skills and understanding to live alone, or gaining the experience necessary to join the workforce, safety is paramount. Often times, people with autism and other developmental disabilities do not have the same understanding of inherent danger, so it’s up to those that care for them and the community to maintain a watchful eye and to help people with ASD develop a better understanding of safety. Lexington has covered safety tips for parents in the past, but adults need support as well. If you want to help someone develop a focus on community safety skills, here are some steps you can take.
One of the reasons why it’s important to continue learning community safety skills is because education and markers for progression for many adults with disabilities are not focused on safety, instead focusing on the development of things like life and social skills in many cases. That is not to say that safety is neglected, but a constant review of the safety risks and how to prepare for them is good for anyone.
The first thing that you need to do to become aware of safety risks, or to help someone develop this skill, is to prepare. Preparation happens at home or on personal time, or even in appropriate environments where risks can be examined and prepared for in a controlled environment. Flashcards, visual aids and practice in a controlled environment are the strongest tools you can use to prepare. For example, if you are helping someone prepare in case of an emergency in a familiar building, showing them a visual aid like a picture or map of the building with emergency exits highlighted. This can be followed by an activity where flashcards with just an emergency exit sign are presented, as well as a blank map, and the individual must identify where the exits are. Then you can go with them to the actual location and combine that preparation with practical application. In this way, caregivers can help people prepare in a safe and comfortable environment.
A large risk factor for people with disabilities is a lack of recognition of danger. In some regard, this includes street safety or awareness of dangerous environmental factors, which can pose a big threat. However, an underlying or under-discussed threat to many adults with disabilities is other adults and their agendas. Strangers that intend to bully, threaten or cheat adults with disabilities are far more prevalent than many people assume and they take advantage of an at-risk group of adults that are more likely to stay silent about improper treatment.
Recognition is part of preparation, but it’s so important for people to recognize safety hazards and threats from other adults, that it needs to be in its own category. Identifying the trustworthy adults and community members, while also pinpointing the actions that should be questioned in other adults is where you should start.
People learn by doing things and experience teaches us what works for us versus what does not work. To be a community advocate or to help the person you care for to learn community safety skills, you will need to identify opportunities for them to practice what they have learned in a controlled manner with you by their side. This doesn’t mean expose them to dangerous situations for the purpose of education and practice, but watch for any sort of potential moment to identify safety risks and to practice positive safety behaviors in your daily routine.
All of this can be practiced at home and in the community and practice will reinforce the ideas that people learn, which is why it’s important for caregivers to demonstrate these skills yourself and to practice them often. These skills are building blocks that can help adults with disabilities to get involved in their community, become a better worker in their work environment and even learn to live on their own. Caregivers help to develop these building blocks.