When it comes to being safe at home or out in the world, our children and all of us as parents and guardians need to understand the potential dangers so we can plan ahead, teach, and help keep everyone secure.
Many parents who are adjusting to their child’s individual patterns of behavior can be surprised by something new. We get used to routine, it’s comfortable for us and for our kids on the spectrum, but the world doesn’t stay the same for long and new elements are introduced into our lives very quickly.
Recently, a young boy on the autism spectrum was assaulted by some kids on his school bus. This could have been the result of children just being bullies and picking on someone they see as different, or it could have been because the victim wasn’t prepared for the interaction and sensory stimuli onboard. This kind of a safety incident is not limited to a school bus. Our kids can end up being introduced to dangerous things such as sending inappropriate pictures on a cell phone, or developing feelings for people who are not age appropriate or do not have their best interests at heart.
Safety areas to be aware of
Any safety measures we teach our kids should all be age specific and appropriate. Over the years, I have researched information for articles on safety for children on the spectrum and what I find consistently is there are always new parents and guardians coming online so it’s worth covering some of the areas where trouble can take place.
Depending on the abilities of your child, you may give them a cell phone to stay in contact. Teaching them what is appropriate to say and do on a call is important. In the past, I’ve also heard about kids sending nudes or other inappropriate pictures to each other. Depending on the age of the senders and receivers this can be considered criminal in some instances regardless of whether the child is on the spectrum.
Sexual exploitation is another problem for every child. It is vital we ensure our kids on the spectrum understand personal boundaries and learning how to tell someone not to touch them is very important. Equally important is making sure they know how to tell you if someone sends them pictures or asks for pictures that make them uncomfortable, or if someone touches them in ways that make them uncomfortable.
When it comes to keeping safe out in the world, many children are drawn to water. If they get out of the house or school and wander, they can be attracted to water sites. Every year we see tragedies where a kid ends up in the water and drowns. There are pieces of electronic equipment we can get to use as locators and water sensors should a child get lost and go into a body of water. In these cases, time is of the essence: knowing where to go to look will save time and maybe lives.
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Safety tips for autism parents
Work with local police and schools
Reach out to your local police department and see if they keep track of where special needs kids live in town and how to contact parents and guardians if they get lost. Work with your schools to ensure they include kids on the spectrum in security drills and safety planning. It’s also worth asking schools to invite the police to visit the kids before an emergency takes place. You can also set up a meeting with your local police to make sure they know you and your child. I would recommend finding out what the local police do if they get a report of a missing child. All of these things can “break the ice” for our kids so they get to see the police as friends and not someone to fear.
As our kids get older some of them will want to drive and date. For any family these can be very difficult topics and transitions. Planning ahead can make the decisions easier or help us figure out how to handle any topics that we didn’t consider, or think would be a part of our child’s life as they transition to adulthood.
Case study: preparing my nephew for the adult world
I will share a personal example with you. My 21-year-old nephew on the spectrum has wanted to get his driver’s license since he was 17. However, while he is very able in many areas, he would not be a safe driver due to traffic and pedestrians being confusing for him when combined with operating a vehicle.
It took a lot of conversation before he stopped asking for his license and accepted that it wasn’t safe. The same thing came up with drinking a beer. The idea of him drinking alcohol was not something our family had previously considered, but one day at a picnic he told us that, since he was 21 years old like his cousins, he wanted to drink a beer with them.
His parents were concerned about what this would mean long term, would he be able to control alcohol? Would he drink on his own? How would alcohol affect him? These kinds of things can catch us off guard, so it is better to consider them early and think about how the conversation might go.
My nephew also told us he wanted a girlfriend. We weren’t sure how to handle that. It was a natural desire, but we had to make sure he understood personal boundaries, the challenges of relationships emotionally and physically, and how to control himself when he was with another person on a date. I wrote about this recently as several people had asked me about the topic, the common denominator was they weren’t expecting this and it was difficult to deal with. Early planning and preparation is always best.
Teaching safety skills to students with autism comes down to a few pointers for every child. First, we have to anticipate the unexpected. Then, we have to find ways to discuss the feelings and realities of keeping everyone safe. By making connections in your school, with your local police, and with your neighbors you have a larger group of people looking out for your kids.
Safety is really all about planning and preparing. Whether they are little ones or big ones, our kids need our help to stay safe. Preparing them as best as we can through talking or getting the right equipment to help us keep track of them can help keep them safe.
If you have any concerns or questions, feel free to reach out to me anytime by emailing JPangaro@TrueSecurityDesign.com.
Autism Parenting Magazine aims to deliver informed resources and guidance, but information cannot be guaranteed by the publication or its writers. Our content is never intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician with any questions you may have and never disregard medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this website.