Maintaining and promoting safety for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities is a significant concern for caregivers in the home and community settings. A child who is able to demonstrate appropriate safety skills is better equipped to function more independently. Additionally, these individuals can access a larger number of community resources compared to those individuals who do not have the necessary prerequisite safety skills. Safety in the home and community can include a number of different areas, from staying with caregivers in public to avoiding victimization.
- assess safety skills early and often
- teach all safety skills not mastered
- program for generalization
- reinforce appropriate use of safety skills
- create a safety plan
- underestimate the individual in your care
- assume knowledge equals ability to act
- teach only in one situation or one scenario
- forget to be creative
It is never too early to begin assessing a child’s safety skills. Because there are a number of different safety skills to learn, it is important to assess these as early as possible, so any safety skills not mastered can be taught. It is also vital to assess safety skills on a regular basis. Just because a skill has been mastered does not mean that it will be maintained over time or generalized to multiple settings.
When safety skills have not been fully mastered, it is crucial to teach them. While teaching safety skills can be challenging, with a little creativity, it is possible to teach skills without putting an individual in danger. There are virtual teaching tools available for teaching certain skills, such as crossing the street or functioning more independently in the community with reduced supervision. There are also a number of companies, which sell safety bracelets and special ID cards via the internet. Individuals can be taught to wear these bracelets or use the cards to communicate their personal information, even when they are unable to do so verbally.
One of the steps often left out of teaching is programming for generalization of skills. It is necessary to carefully plan how to generalize skills from the teaching environment to a variety of different settings. Children should be given the opportunity to demonstrate learned skills in a variety of settings. And when mastered skills are not demonstrated in a particular environment, they must be taught in that environment.
The appropriate use of safety skills must be reinforced so that they are more likely to be demonstrated again in the future. In order to choose the most appropriate reinforcers, you must first assess an individual’s preferences via a preference assessment. Once you have identified some highly preferred items, you can begin to offer them to the individual, following the appropriate use of safety skills. Don’t forget that in the beginning, you will need to do this every time a child demonstrates the skills, or even if he or she demonstrate part of a skill. As they become more independent at demonstrating the skill, it will be possible to offer reinforcers less frequently.
No matter what safety concern you may or may not have, it is always critical to have a detailed safety plan. Think worst case scenario and make a plan for that. Think through all issues that could arise from a fire in your home, to an individual getting out of the home unsupervised, to losing someone in the community. If you have a plan in place, it will be much easier to take the appropriate actions in the event of an emergency.
Parents must be one step ahead of their child by taking all safety precautions and planning for an emergency. When children want to leave their home unattended, they can be very creative in their timing, as well as their ability to evade door chimes and other safety measures. Consequently, it is important to provide supervision appropriate to children’s needs and to try and plan to the best of your ability.
Just because you have taught a skill and a child can tell you what he or she should do in a crisis, it does not mean that he or she actually knows what to do. It is important to not only ensure that children can tell you what they should do, who they should call, or where things such as phone numbers are located, but that they also can perform the necessary steps to follow through. This is part of teaching and programming for generalization–and should be regularly tested as part of skill maintenance.
When teaching safety skills, be sure to teach in a variety of situations or with a variety of scenarios. When teaching problem solving skills, create cards for different emergency scenarios and practice each of these. The more ways you can teach children to maintain their safety, the better prepared they will be during a true emergency.
There have been several initiatives regarding safety for kids with ASD that have resulted in numerous safety products and teaching tools. These are readily available on the internet. However, you can be creative and make your own materials or modify existing materials, so they work for the kids in your care.
It is important to teach safety skills to children with ASD and other developmental disabilities. Having a good safety plan, teaching safety skills across a variety of settings and situations, and ensuring children know how to maintain their safety if and when the need arises, are just some of the things you as a caregiver or parent can do to be prepared.