Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are vulnerable to safety risks in the community, either as a result of their own behaviours, or the result of not perceiving or understanding unsafe circumstances. Every child with ASD is unique with some children being more at risk more than others. It is important to recognize unsafe behaviours and to know what you can do as a parent to make sure your child is as safe as possible when out in the community.
A child with ASD may:
- Not understand dangerous situations
- Wander away
- Not recognize situations where they may get hurt
- Have no fear of heights
- Be attracted to water
- Eat non-food items
Children with ASD vary greatly in their level of understanding and developmental stages. In some cases, individuals are profoundly delayed in parts of their development compared to an individual who does not have ASD, while in others, they seem to progress in a more typical way. Depending on where your child is in their development, they may not understand the idea of consequences for their behaviour. This can put them at a greater safety risk as they are unaware of activities or situations that may be more dangerous than others. It is important to always be aware of the capabilities of your child and plan ahead to keep them safe when out in the community.
Strategies to Improve your Child’s Safety
Create a Safety Plan
It is important to develop a plan early on so that it is available in case an emergency arises. Everyone that is involved with your child on a daily basis should help develop and have a copy of the safety plan. Some important topics you should cover in your child’s safety plan include:
- Behaviours and situations that may put your child at a safety risk when they are out in the community (e.g. loud noises like a fire truck siren, crowds, etc.)
- What the child needs to be safe in the community (e.g. an exit strategy, an item that provides comfort, a calm demeanor among those with them, etc.)
- Ways that all caregivers working with your child will plan ahead to reduce the unsafe behaviour from occurring in the community. (e.g. this may include the development of a social story for your child to help them rehearse a new situation, or understand appropriate reactions to things they encounter)
- How you will get in contact with members involved with your child, where you will go and what you will do in an emergency.
- A description of your child. Include: a photo of child, their height, weight, medical concerns, likes/dislikes, how they communicate, emergency contacts, and sensory information.
Consider developing or purchasing ID wear for the child when out in the community. ID wear can be: a bracelet or necklace, shoe tags, laminated ID card to be located on pants or jackets, etc. that notifies others who they are (this is especially important if child is non-verbal).
Create Community Awareness
Creating community awareness about ASD is an area that support groups, governments, organizations, and families throughout the world are continuously working on. However, despite their efforts there are still many individuals in the community that are not aware of or educated about ASD.
Every child is unique, and it is important to be aware that some behaviors and characteristics of ASD may have the potential to attract attention from the public. As a parent, it is your job to inform members in your community about your child if they have behaviours that may cause safety concerns. Members in the community may be: family, friends, neighbors, the school, or other individuals who may come into contact with your child.
Having a discussion with members in your community can help prevent problem situations in the future. It will also help others to understand your child and to know that you are approachable if they see unusual behaviours. If you are unsure how to approach others with information about your child, try following the steps below to get you started:
- Decide what information you want to present to the member in your community.
- Plan a brief visit or have a discussion with the individual where you can introduce yourself and your child (either in person or a photograph).
- Give the individual a simple handout with your name, address, and phone number. Provide them with information about your child that you feel is important for them to know.
- Ask them to call you immediately if they see your child outside the home unattended.
For more information on developing safety plans and community awareness, visit
- The Big Red Safety Toolkit, available from the National Autism Association: http://nationalautismassociation.org/docs/BigRedSafetyToolkit.pdf
- Plan your response for an Autism Emergency, available from the Autism Risk & Safety Management website: http://www.debbaudtlegacy.com/autism-fire-rescue-emergency-medical-service-video/
- First 100 Days Kit, available from the Autism Speaks website at: http://www.autismspeaks.org/docs/family_services_docs/100_day_kit.pdf
Consider Other Safety Options
Additional product options are available to help improve your child’s safety.
Children with ASD who have a tendency to wander and get lost can benefit from having a MedicAlert ID. A MedicAlert ID will have important medical condition information engraved on a bracelet, necklace, watch or wristband that an individual can wear 24/7. If your child happens to get lost, police, paramedics, or community members can call the MedicAlert hotline phone number to get into contact with parents of the child. They will also be immediately notified of your child’s medical conditions.
For more information on the MedicAlert ID, visit the MedicAlert website:
Keep Me Safe ID
The Keep Me Safe ID bracelet was designed for individuals who have ASD. Each bracelet has a unique Quick Response (QR) barcode that reaches a Keep Me Safe ID online profile. People in the community can scan the QR barcode with their smartphone, tablet, or other code reader to access the child’s Safe ID profile page online. Parents and caregivers can put whatever information they want to share on the online Safe ID profile, including parent contact information. The bracelets also have a toll free number and the individual’s profile number engraved onto the person who finds the child does not have access to a smartphone.
For more information on Keep Me Safe ID, visit the following website:
Amber Alert GPS
Amber Alert GPS is a tracking system that children with ASD can wear if they are at risk of wandering and getting lost. Children wear the Amber Alert system as a bracelet, or as an accessory that can be clipped onto their belt or backpack. The system offers GPS tracking that parents can access off a smartphone app, an SOS button that children can press to contact parents, 2-way voice control, customized zones, and more custom features.
For more information about the Amber Alert GPS, visit the Amber Alert GPS website:
Project Lifesaver Manitoba
If you have a child or adult child who is not safety aware and tends to wander off, this might be a great resource for you. Project Lifesaver provides police, fire/rescue and other first responders with a comprehensive program including equipment and training to quickly locate and rescue at risk individuals. Participants wear a tracking bracelet 24/7, which improves their chance of being found if they get lost as police and rescue units are able to track the person down using their equipment.
For more information on Project Lifesaver Manitoba, visit the following website:
Project Lifesaver Manitoba http://www.projectlifesavermanitoba.ca/
A trained service dog can be helpful to children and adults with ASD. Emotional regulation, safety, sleep support, play and interaction, and developing responsibility are all possible benefits. For more information check out these organizations:
- MSAR K-9 Program (Manitoba Search and Rescue): http://msar.ca/?page_id=218
- Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides: http://www.dogguides.com/index.html
- St. John’s Ambulance http://www.sja.ca/English/Community-Services/Pages/Therapy%20Dog%20Services/Special-Paws-for-Special-Kids.aspx
Additional Safety ID Options
Below are additional safety options available to your child. Visit the following websites to get more information on these types of IDs for your child:
For more information about safety and ASD, visit the following websites:
- Disability ID Cards, available from the Autism Calgary website at: http://www.autismcalgary.com/2014/01/calgary-police-diversity-unit-disability-id-cards/
- Wandering and Elopement Webinar, available from the interactive autism network at: http://www.iancommunity.org/cs/simons_simplex_community/wandering_and_elopement_webinar
- National Safety Resources, available from the Autism Speaks website at: http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/autism-safety-project/safety-resources