Often times parents and family members of children with autism aren’t aware of the complexities that are posed by everyday encounters. Activities or tasks that have some inherent risk are so commonplace that people often forget how their loved one might interact with the world differently. While it may be grim to look at the world around as full of risk, it’s important to be mindful of the things that pose immediate risks to loved ones with autism and to learn strategies for teaching them to practice safety in anything they do. Here are safety tips to prepare you and your loved one for prevalent scenarios that are a major risk to individuals with autism.
Many individuals with autism exhibit wandering behavior. This poses a huge risk because if individuals wander too far or without the knowledge and supervision of someone watching over them, they may not be able to find their way back to a place of safety and they may have trouble interacting with a person that finds them or remembering crucial information like their name or where they live. The key to managing wandering behavior is vigilant observation, awareness, and preventative measures to make sure they don’t get in harm’s way.
- Always provide supervision to ensure that a child can enjoy their favorite activities, but they don’t sneak or even run away when they have an opportunity. It’s not about restriction, just supervision. Make sure supervisors are aware of the child’s propensity to wander away.
- Note the behavior in the IEP to ensure that everyone on the team is aware of the situation in case they should wander.
- Install safety devices such as fences with locks, safety locks on doors, and a security system to notify you if a child has exited a safe space.
- Teach children about street safety, stop signs, traffic and other risks like rivers and ponds that could pose a risk to their health. It should be noted that safety around water should be highly emphasized. Drowning accounted for 71% of fatal accidents among children with autism.
It’s incredibly important to teach kids with autism relevant safety lessons because they tend to lack an awareness of danger and struggle with distractibility. Street traffic is incredibly dangerous to children with autism, accounting for up to 18% of lethal outcomes, so parents and guardians need to make sure young people know how to protect themselves.
- Use Visual Aids At Home – Kids with autism are highly visual and benefit from visual aids. Make flash cards indicating safe practices near roads and how to interpret traffic signals and signs. You can create your own or use pre-made safety cards.
- Watch Safety Videos – Reinforcing street safety behavior can’t be stressed enough so watch videos like the Autism Crossing The Street Video.
- Use Technology – You can use programs like Walk Safe to teach street safety on a virtual platform
- Practice Visibility – Reflective or highly visible clothing should be worn to make sure that drivers see your child.
- Model Safety Behavior – Make sure that you model the behavior that you would like to see your child practicing, including explanations for why you follow specific safety steps.
You should also be generally aware of street safety while driving in your vehicle. Make sure to keep controls and door handles child locked and to emphasize safety inside the vehicle and outside of it.
The Risk Of “Stranger Danger”
Every child needs to learn the inherent risks of associating with strangers in their lives, but this can be difficult for a loved one with autism because of their social and communication barriers. People with autism are still at risk of abduction and they are particularly at risk for assault, so making sure they understand “stranger danger” is vital.
You should not simply teach kids not to talk to strangers, especially since some children with autism have a tendency to wander. They need to know which people they can seek help from. Instead teach them what to watch for with “unsafe strangers” versus “safe strangers” they might encounter. They should be taught not to accept gifts from strangers and never to follow people that take their hand or try to lead them away from the safety of a group.
Roleplay scenarios that might indicate an “unsafe stranger,” such as adults encouraging kids to disobey, or to keep a secret, or possibly adults needing help somewhere away from safety. All of these factors should be instilled in your child so they are aware of the warning signs of danger that might not be as apparent to them.
Also teach them the difference between “safe strangers” and those that could try to abduct them. A safe stranger can be any public safety official, such as a police officer, fire fighter, security guard, teacher or even a uniformed store clerk. They can also look to adults that are with other trusted and familiar adults, such as a trusted family friend or mom and dad.
Resources For More Information
Safety is one of the tenants that Lexington Services has built its programs around. If you are working with your loved one on safety practices, the experts at Lexington can help your child to prepare for scenarios they may face. And if you’re seeking professional supervision or advice, our staff is highly trained and very passionate.
Contact Lexington Services today for more information.
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