Community Safety Skills for Learners with Autism – New Jersey ABA

Safety Skills for Autism Spectrum Disorder

ABA providers often focus on in-home therapy with a focus on filling in academic and language gaps. At ABLG, we believe those skills are important, and also believe in designing programs that address a wide range of skills. We include domains like safety and using technology to make sure our clients are getting everything they need to lead a quality, meaningful life.

We often work with clients who have a hard time doing things with their families like attending religious services, going to a store that has lots of tempting toys or goodies, or going to a playground with brothers and sisters.

After assessing the client’s abilities in the community, we choose skills to teach that can help him or her have more freedom, and that help our families have more freedom, too!

We often start out teaching these skills at home, in a safe and controlled environment. That’s not a hard and fast rule, however! Some of our learners already demonstrate basic safety behavior in the community. For example, they’re not prone to running from an adult or bolting in a parking lot. In that case, it might be beneficial to start teaching these skills in the locations they might be used, with the people who might be using them. Your clinician can help make those determinations.

Some individuals with Autism will be more likely to use the skills they learn when they’re taught in realistic environments. Use lots of examples of environments (e.g., stores and parks), materials, and people (e.g., mom and dad, but also siblings and any other caregivers) during teaching. Using “multiple exemplar training” often leads better skill acquisition and generalization.

Here are a few basic skills we like to incorporate into community outings teaching sessions.

1) Tolerating “No” and Waiting in the Presence of a Reinforcer
One common problem with children (not just children with Autism) is difficulty hearing “no” when they want something they see at a store. Most parents have had the experience of a huge meltdown or tantrum when a child sees something they want in a store, and they can’t have it. There are two skills that come into play. First, being able to tolerate hearing “no”. Secondly, being able to wait calmly, even when there is something tempting like the candy counter at checkout! Your BCBA can help you design an individualized approach to teaching these skills.

2) Waiting When Things Are Boring
Nobody likes to wait in line, wait for help, wait for the person in front of them to count out their change in pennies, or wait while someone else is reading labels. Waiting is boring. As adults, we’ve learned that waiting is a fact of life. We learn that eventually waiting brings us something we want, like taking our groceries home. For some learners, we have to explicitly teach them that waiting is worth their while. Waiting is an important life skill, from preschool to on-the-job. To teach waiting, we often start with an interval as short as 5 or 10 seconds! Your BCBA can help you figure out what’s right for your child.

3) Stop!
Every parent has experienced that heart-stopping moment when their child runs for the street, breaks away from them in a parking lot, or starts climbing up the shelves at the grocery store. Most young children need to be explicitly taught to freeze when they hear “STOP!” There are lots of fun ways to teach this skill. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to generalize this skill to other, noisy environments!

4) Staying with an Adult
When children are small, we don’t mind holding their hand to keep them beside us in the store. As they get older, hand holding limits independence and also becomes stigmatizing. Our learners need to acquire the ability to keep an eye on US in the event we forget for a second to keep an eye on THEM. Using the direction “Stay with me,” or “Walk by me,” adults can teach children to zone in on staying within arm’s reach.

5) Getting Help If Lost
All children need to learn how to approach an authority and ask for help. This skill can be complicated ~ how do you teach an individual who is an authority, and who is just a stranger? If your learner is non-verbal, how do you teach them to give up an identification card with instructions? There are some studies within the Applied Behavior Analysis literature than can help take the overwhelm out of this skill. There are new technologies such as single-button cell phones that can help us cue individuals to go get help as well. Like all skills, seeking assistance when lost CAN be broken down and taught, step-by-step!

While some of these skills might seem overwhelming, complex, or not relevant at this time, be assured that they can be taught to learners of all ages and abilities. They’re critical life skills that will become more and more important as children become older and want to take part in extra curricular activities, enjoy more freedom, and start seeking meaningful employment.

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