For autistic kids, everyday safety risks are often magnified. Staying safe requires your child to develop an important set of skills and to apply them to a variety of situations. As you think about how best to ensure the safety of your autistic child, there are some guiding principles that you should keep in mind.
Safety skills are life skills and life-long skills. Just like any other skill your child learns, these require time and energy to master. Start early and practice often. Depending on how your child learns best, there are different methods (e.g., visual cues, gestures, modeling, etc.) that build on their unique strengths. In
general, individuals with autism are often visually attuned, so visual supports can help them “see” situations.
Safety skills must be learned, taught, and practiced as directly as possible. This needs to be done continuously and across multiple settings and people, so that your child can generalize the safety skill they are learning to other situations. Do not worry if a skill is not learned on the first few tries. It may be possible that the skill needs to be broken down further, or that a different approach would be more effective. It is important to understand that this is a learning process for both of you. Stay positive and be patient. Your child will need to learn and maintain the skill over time, so be prepared to give refreshers every now and then, even after your child has shown previous mastery of the skill.
You know your child best and will always be one of their best advocates. You will come to know what works best when teaching them new skills. You also will know what areas they will struggle in, what triggers they may have, and which behaviors they will show when they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Since you and your family know their abilities and strengths best, you can use this knowledge to create the most appropriate and effective safety plans.
You are not alone, and you do not need to do everything alone. Having a safety network and support system for you and your child is not only helpful, but also necessary in many cases. Home, school, community, faith-based institutions, work, and the neighborhood are all environments that can be part of an ongoing safety network for you and your child. Professionals, neighbors, organizations, and law enforcement personnel are all potential partners who can support your efforts.
The Safety Planning Cycle is a step-by-step approach to building safety skills that can be used over and over again. The infographic below breaks down the steps of the Safety Planning Cycle and how you can apply them:
The key to the Safety Planning Cycle is that it is fluid. You will need to revisit and revise the safety topics as your child gets older and their risks change; each time, you can re-apply the Safety Planning Cycle with the knowledge and skills you’ve already developed. This Safety Planning Cycle is meant to be revisited, re-used, and revised as often as necessary, as safety needs change over time.
To learn more about the Safety Planning Cycle and other autism safety tools, read OAR’s full Guide to Safety here.