Encouraging independence is important for youth and adults who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but there are also many safety concerns. As parents or caregivers, it is a challenge to think ahead of all the risks. Developing a safety plan and reviewing it periodically is important. For more information on developing safety plans and safety strategies, please click HERE.
As individuals with ASD approach young adulthood, they may want to be involved and explore the community environment more independently. As a parent or caregiver, it is your responsibility to make sure you’re providing your child with the skills they need to be as safe as possible. As youth and adults with ASD will vary in their intellectual and developmental stage, they may lack safety awareness and not fully understand consequences for risky behaviours when out in the community. Planning ahead and thoroughly teaching them topics related to safety can improve their safety when out in the community.
Below are some of areas that are important to consider teaching safety skills in for youth and adults with ASD.
In the Community
If you notice your child is lacking safety awareness when in the community, consider teaching them and preparing them for these types of situations:
- What to do if approached by a panhandler.
- What to do if approached by a one or more persons wanting your belongings.
- Where are the best places to walk? For example, staying in populated areas and avoiding back alleys.
- What to do if someone grabs you.
- How to use public washrooms in a safe and socially acceptable manner.
For more information about safety in the community, visit:
If an adult with ASD is using public transportation, consider preparing them for these situations that may occur:
- What to do if stop requested is missed.
- How to deal with strangers who may approach you on the bus.
- What to do if the bus doesn’t arrive on time, or doesn’t arrive at all.
- Review the bus routes the adult will be using. For example, print out the map or schedule ahead of time.
- What to do if you loose your bus pass or bus tickets. For example, always have spare change when going on a bus.
In the Workplace
If an adult with ASD is working, these are some topics to consider teaching to the individual to improve their safety:
- Make sure the adult is taught the procedures for fire or tornado alarms. For example, they need to be aware of the fire exit and stairwells.
- Make sure the adult is taught about workplace harassment. For example, what it may look like, what to do if you are being harassed, and who to turn to if there is a problem.
- Make sure the adult understands workplace etiquette. For example, respecting private property, how to appropriately greet others, and when to assist someone if they need help.
- What to do if someone offers them something they haven’t paid for (risk of perceived theft).
- The rules for taking breaks at work. For example, the policies for where to take breaks, when to take breaks, and signing in/out for breaks.
- How to work alone safely.
For more information on safety in the workplace, visit the following website:
- Online Safety Program for youth in the workplace
- Workplace Safety and Health, available from the Government of Manitoba
website at: http://www.gov.mb.ca/labour/safety/
Shopping in the Community
Here are some things to consider and prepare for when youth and adults with ASD begin to go shopping in the community:
- Be aware that some stores do not allow customers to bring their backpacks or large bags into the store. Some individuals with ASD may not want to leave their belongings at the front counter. Teach them what to do if they come into this situation.
- Teach budgeting.
- What to do if approached by store security.
- Make sure the adult understands the rules of paying for items. Don’t let “friends” or others convince you to take something from a store (shoplifting) without paying for it first.
If an adult with ASD comes into contact with law enforcement, it is important that they are aware of how to handle these situations:
- What to do when approached by the law enforcement. For example, how to behave and where to keep hands.
- How to let the law enforcement know that they have autism.
- How to contact police if they are in trouble.
For more information on safety and law enforcement, visit the following link:
- Field Response Tips for Law Enforcement, available from the Autism Risk & Management website at: hhttp://www.debbaudtlegacy.com/autism-law-enforcement-roll-call-briefing/
If an adult with ASD is using the internet frequently, consider teaching them ways to improve their safety in these areas:
- How to remain safe in chat rooms. For example, do not tell strangers personal information, do not share pictures of yourself with others, do not arrange to meet up with strangers online in person, and what socially acceptable conversation looks like.
- How to remain safe on online dating sites. For example, how to set up profile, sharing information with others, arranging dates with others, and giving away personal information.
- How to keep passwords and online accounts protected. For example, how to change your password occasionally, not share your passwords with others, log out of accounts you are signed into when you are done.
For more information on internet safety, visit the following websites:
- Staying Safe Online, available from the NHS Choice website at: http://www.nhs.uk/aboutNHSChoices/aboutnhschoices/staying-safe-online/Pages/hide-your-tracks-online.aspx
- A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety, available from the FBI website at: http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/parent-guide
- Ability Online – Safe, Monitored Online Community: http://www.abilityonline.org/
It is important that all parents teach their children how to safely handle their money and bank cards. Some individuals with ASD may need more teaching and guidance with handling money than others. Make sure to review and teach the following to improve your child’s safety:
- How to use debit and/or credit cards. It is important to teach them to never give anyone their bank card or their bank card password.
- How to be aware of surroundings when using ATM’s alone or at night.
- Teach youth and adults with ASD on how to check bank statements for transactions. Consider keeping a purchase journal of transactions to compare to bank statements.
- Teach adults how to put away money into wallet after using it. Teach them the appropriate amounts of cash to carrying on (large amounts of cash is not necessary).
For more information on handling money, visit the following website:
- Dealing with Money, available from the Autism Speaks website at: http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/autism-safety-project/community/dealing-with-money
Sexual Awareness and ASD
Parents may feel anxious and uncomfortable teaching their children about sex and sexuality. This is a very common feeling faced by many parents as this is generally a difficult topic for people to talk openly about. Like all people, individuals who have ASD will go through puberty and have desires or urges to be in a romantic relationship. It is extremely important that parents teach their youth and adult children with ASD about the topics associated with sex and sexuality to improve their safety.
Youth and adults with ASD vary in their intellectual and developmental stages, which results in some being more aware of sexual knowledge and safety than others. Some people with ASD may not be aware of their bodily changes that are occurring during puberty, privacy rules, or of the socially acceptable rules for romantic relationships. Because of this, people with ASD are a vulnerable population who are at an increased risk for being sexually abused or exploited. It is beneficial to prepare for and teach earlier rather than later the following topics to your child with ASD:
- Teach youth early on the changes that their body is going to go through and what to expect when in puberty.
- Teach youth the appropriate sexual behaviours they can engage in at home vs out in the community.
- Teach youth inappropriate sexual behaviours they shouldn’t engage in at home or in the community.
- Teach youth what sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional harassment is. For example, what it may look like, what to do if you are being sexually harassed, and who to turn to if you think you are being sexually harassed.
- Explain appropriate and respectful behaviours that people in a romantic relationship will engage in.
- Explain inappropriate and disrespectful behaviours that people in a romantic relationship should not engage in.
- Explain to them what a healthy romantic relationship looks like. For example, how two individuals would feel about each other, how a relationship typically looks, the stages one typically goes through leading up to sex, and what sexual consent means.
- Teach your child about sex. For example, what it is, different genders body parts, and the body parts involved in having sex.
- Explain healthy safe sex practices, such as using a condom or using birth control for females. Explain the results of not using safe sex practices.
If you are unsure about how to address these topics with your child, seek out information to help you. Ask your doctor, other health care professionals, family, friends, support networks or other trusted members in your community for advice and resources. Their advice can help guide and plan your discussion you will have with your child.
It has been found that social stories are effective with assisting parents or caregivers to teach youth with ASD about sex topics. To learn more about social stories, visit our “Therapy Options” page.
For more information on sexuality and ASD, please visit the following website:
- Autism Spectrum Disorders and Sexuality, available form the Sexuality Resource Center for Parents at: http://www.srcp.org/for_some_parents/developmental_disabilities/activities_to_use_with_your_child/autismDD.html
- Recognizing and Preventing Sexual Abuse, available from the Autism Speaks website at: http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/autism-safety-project/sexual-abuse
- Health, available from the Autism Speaks website at: http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/tool-kits/transition-tool-kit/health
- Autism Sex Education website: http://www.autismsexeducation.com/#!information-resources/c23qn
Additional Safety Resources
Check out the following links to get more information on autism and safety, and get helpful tips on teaching youth and adults about safety.
- Safe Signals – Fire and Burn Safety for Teens and Adults, available from the Autism Speaks website at: http://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/safe_signals_project.pdf
- Winnipeg Safety Network, available from the Community Living Winnipeg website at: http://communitylivingwinnipeg.com/services-support/winnipeg-safety-network/
- What Are the Safety Concerns for People on the Autism Spectrum?, available from the psychology today website at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-autism-advocate/201202/what-are-the-safety-concerns-people-the-autism-spectrum
- Be Safe the Movie: https://besafethemovie.com/
- Safety Signs and Signals, available from the Autism Community website at: http://www.autism-community.com/safety-signs-and-signals/
- Autism & Emergency Preparedness: Tips and Information for Emergency Shelter Staff and Trainers, available from the Autism Risk & Safety Management website at: http://autismriskmanagement.com/documents/DisasterPreparedness.pdf
- Developing Risk and Safety Life Skills for Persons with Autism, available from the Autism Risk & Safety Management website at: http://autismriskmanagement.com/documents/Life_Skills.pdf
- Sample of an Emergency Contact Form: http://autismriskmanagement.com/documents/autism_emergency_contact_form.pdf
- Autism and Safety PowerPoint presentation: http://www.okautism.org/documents/AutismSafetyPresentation.pdf
- National Autism Association website: http://www.autismsafety.org/