Here are the highlights from another talk that I attended at the 39th Annual Applied Behaviour Analysis International (ABAI) Conference in Seattle on the importance of teaching safety skills to children (and adults) with autism.
Teaching Safety Skills to Individuals with Disabilities:
Every parent wants their child to be safe. And for many parents of children with autism, safety skills are often top of mind. Safety skills cover a broad range of skills, but when you boil it down, they can be put into one of two categories: (1) dangers in the social environment (such as kidnapping, abuse); and (2) dangers in the physical environment (such as poisons, matches).
In this talk, Miltenberger stressed the importance of reliably assessing the safety skills of children with autism and other disabilities after they have been taught. Because you want to (need to) know that if your child found a firearm in the home (there was a heavy emphasis on this during the talk, assuming because this is more common in the US because of their laws around firearms), that they would in fact: (a) not touch the gun; and (b) go and tell an adult immediately.
It turns out that it doesn’t matter if your child can tell you what needs to be done when faced with a safety threat, nor demonstrate that he/she could act it out successfully in a role-play situation; it’s the real-life simulation (i.e., your child doesn’t know that he/she is being tested) that will give you the real measure of how your child will stand up if it actually happens. It’s like those “quality” daytime talk shows when they set kids up by knocking on their door when their parents aren’t home, and pretending to be a stranger to see how the child will respond (all the while their parents and a video crew are watching from a live feed in the backyard). It looks like Oprah wasn’t so off on this one.
Miltenberger also stressed that these real-life assessments need to be carefully designed with the child’s safety and well-being in mind. It’s meant as a protective measure and a learning opportunity.
Sound scary? Definitely. But in this case, isn’t knowing better than not knowing? If you want to learn more, check out this article by Miltenberger that looks at the different types of safety skills, how to assess safety skills, and general guidelines for teaching safety skills to children.
What are your top safety concerns for your child? What strategies have you found to be effective?