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Tips for Keeping your Child with Autism Safe

With appropriate treatment, children with autism can learn many different safety skills. Over the past decade, Behaviour Analysts have published some important research describing different techniques to teach a variety of safety skills. Unfortunately, many children with autism are not taught safety skills as part of their regular curriculum. Sadly, over the past year there have been many stories of individuals with autism going missing.

Here are some key tips from a research article and also resources from the community to keep your child safe:

1) Consider connecting with Project Lifesaver. Through this organization, each individual can get a bracelet with a GPS tracker on it. In the unlikely event that your child goes missing, the police will respond to the tracking device. Project Lifesaver in partnership with York Regional Police will be able to help you locate their whereabouts. For further details, click here.

2) ABA-based techniques can help teach children with autism to seek assistance when lost (Bergstrom, Najodwski, & Tarbox, 2012). Here are some key tips to doing so:
– Tell your child the rules about what to do if they get lost (e.g., If they get lost while shopping: “If you ever get lost, you should yell out “Mom!” or “Dad”, if that doesn’t work go find a worker, when you find a worker tell him or her that you are lost.”). Note: If your child is non-vocal these techniques could be adapted for them (e.g., use of the Picture Exchange Communication System [PECS])
– Provide a model of how to follow the rules (e.g., you could act it out for your child to see, you could create a video model)
– Role play following the rules
– During the role play, assist your child to follow the rules
– When your child follows the rules, deliver a reinforcer and if your child has a hard time following the rules then go back to steps 1 and 2.
– With the help of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), set-up opportunities to practice in the natural environment.

3) Whenever you go out to a public place, introduce your child to community helpers that could help them if they get lost (e.g., at a public pool, teach them to ask a lifeguard for help; when you go shopping, teach them to ask a cashier for help; when you go to a parade, teach them to ask a police officer for help). A BCBA could also help you set up a program for learning who to ask for help in your child needs more intensive practice.

Did you know that at Breakthrough Autism, we write and implement a variety of individualized programs to teach children with autism of safety and life skills, such as seeking assistance when lost, abduction prevention, and so many more? Contact us at to learn how we can teach your child these life saving skills!

Reference: Bergstrom, R., Najodwski, A. C., Tarbox, J. (2012). Teaching Children with Autism to Seek Help When Lost in Public. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 191-195.

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