Safety Awareness: Preparing your child for the Unknown

By: Stephanie Martinez

All parents worry about their child’s safety and well being, but for parents who have children on the Autism Spectrum, sometimes more steps are necessary to ensure children are kept safe. Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder may not have the same level of awareness that other typically developing peers may have. For instance, they may have higher levels of impulsivity and lower levels of patience. Some children may go outside without letting their parents know and continue to walk towards their favorite toy ball across the street. They will then have walked to the middle of the street with no awareness of the cars driving by, or the ditch they may have walked right into because they didn’t see the hole in the ground, or they may even go home with a stranger. By the time the parents realize their child went outside, it might be too late. As parents, there are several things we can do to make sure we are keeping our children safe. Let’s start with teaching our children some basic safety skills in the home.

  • Asking for things
    When I often tell parents to make sure their child is asking for things appropriately, they typically tell me, “Yes, he’s asking for “milk” or “juice” really well!” Asking for food and drink is a great place to start. In addition, we can teach kids to ask for items in their environment like “crayons”, “bath”, “potty”, “playground”, or even going “outside”! Once we have mastered asking for things in the home, we may begin to introduce things like asking to go outside or to the swing. We can teach kids to ask before getting things or going somewhere that they want. Once your child is requesting consistently, we can also introduce opportunities to accept no, by saying “no” sometimes, so that children learn that sometimes things are not available.
  • Learning Personal Information
    It is a good idea to teach your child their first and last name, their parent’s first and last name, and their phone number. For more advanced learners, you may even teach them their home address. These are good things to know in case your child ever gets lost. For young children or those whom are non-verbal, you can create a small card with their personal information on it that they can keep on them at all times.
  • Label Surroundings
    We can also make sure we are teaching our children to become aware of their surroundings. When you’re crossing the street, point the cars out, when you’re at the park point to the other boys and girls. You can tell your child “say car” or “say boy” and have them repeat after you. Labeling things in your child’s natural environment will help them become more aware of the things around them. You can even point out things that are “good” or “bad”. For more advanced learners, you can tell your child a social story about “Stranger Danger”.

These are just some basic skills to start with; if you are concerned about your child’s safety, please speak to a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. If elopement is a main concern, there are over-correction procedures and other protocols that can be implemented into your child’s behavior plan; but should only be used under the supervision of a behavior analyst.