In today’s video blog, I want to talk about teaching safety skills for autism. Safety awareness is a huge concern for both parents and professionals. There are many children, teens, and adults with autism who have the language and/or cognitive functioning of a young child. This makes it harder to teach safety awareness.
The Importance of Teaching Safety Skills for Autism
One of my former clients was diagnosed with severe autism. When he was 6, he wandered from his house and drowned in the neighbor’s pool. It was a devastating accident. Wandering and/or drowning are major causes of death in children and adults with autism. It’s a horrible thing. When Lucas was young he also wandered to the point where we had to call the police. So, it’s an issue that I’ve struggled with for almost 2 decades – both personally and professionally.
Lucas had a medical alert bracelet when he was little. Now, he carries a wallet around and has a non-driver’s ID with him all the time. He also has an iPod with the Find My iPhone app, which functions like a GPS on him at all times. And he’s never alone in the community as he requires constant supervision.
Lucas can’t go outside or take a walk alone because we can’t teach him to understand all the abstract concepts regarding safety. Fortunately, Lucas doesn’t wander anymore, so we don’t have to worry about him leaving the house like we did when he was a child. Another issue for Lucas, and many of my clients, is that it is difficult or impossible to teach them to call 911. We could teach Lucas to physically dial 911 but we can’t teach him how to discriminate if there is danger or an emergency.
Determining Developmental Disabilities in Regards to Safety
It’s important we look at language comprehension ability and not a person’s chronological age when we are considering what to teach in terms of safety. If a child, teen, or adult with autism has the language abilities of a 2 or 3-year-old child, they are probably not going to understand many of the abstract concepts surrounding safety.
Without supervision, they may be doing dangerous things like going out in the middle of the street or jumping in a pool even though they don’t know how to swim. Because they have no idea about safety.
It may be difficult to provide the amount of supervision a child at this level needs to keep him safe. You may need to have bolts on the doors or doorknob safety handles. They may need to have a 1-to-1 aide at school if there is any chance of them wandering or eloping out of the school building.
Some things you can do today for teaching safety skills for autism:
- Consider the child’s language comprehension ability and developmental age (not chronological age) when determining how much supervision is required at home, school, and in the community to keep him or her safe. Use this to also determine what safety skills to teach and how.
- Teach your child to swim without floaties. This may require 1:1 swim instruction.
- Tell your neighbors with pools to make sure their gates are locked at all times. And if you have a pool or hot tub, make sure to secure those as well.
- In addition, secure doors, turn on chimes, or put bells on doors so that if a door is opened, you will know right away.
- Get a medical alert bracelet or necklace for the child to wear. Or look into a GPS system if your child has a serious problem with wandering.
- Teach children and adults to be careful in parking lots and to be aware of cars when crossing streets.
- For teens and adults who are older than 16 (who are not at the level where driving is possible) obtain a non-driver’s license identification card through the same organization where you would get a driver’s license and teach the teen or adult to carry a wallet with the ID in it.
- For older children, teens, or adults, consider using an iPod or iPhone with the Find My iPhone app to track location if wandering occurs.
I hope this video blog on teaching safety skills for autism has given you some ideas on how to keep your child or clients safer. I’ll see you next week!