occupational therapy autism safety

ABA, Occupational Therapy Helps Address Safety Concerns for Florida Children With Autism

Worrying about your child’s safety is something with which all parents are familiar. If your child is typically-developing, these concerns usually lessen as he or she gets older, becomes more mature and gains better judgment and safety intuition. However, children with autism and other special needs may be delayed in acquiring the skills necessary to navigate unsafe situations – if they are able to acquire them at all. That doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. There are many ways that parents, caretakers, teachers and public safety officials can work together to create safer environments for children and adults with autism – both for individuals and on a broader scale. It is also something we can work on with our young patients in occupational therapy and ABA therapy at FOCUS.

Safety skills are life skills – and they are important. However, there is no single approach to safety that is going to work for every single child on the autism spectrum – because every person on the spectrum is different. Plus, some safety issues might be present throughout a person’s life, some might build over time, some may fade and others could become more complex. Like any other life skill, safety skills will take time, effort and different approaches to master. That’s why we advise early intervention with therapy and frequent practice.

We also recommend parents look into community resources like swimming lessons/ISR, The Big Red Safety Toolkit and the various products/services highlighted by Autism Speaks.

Safety Concerns for Children With Autism

Children and adults with autism face numerous challenges that can pose a threat to their safety. Difficulty with expressive and receptive language, trouble reading social cues, problems with sensory integration and a tendency to wander are all characteristics of autism that can be dangerous in some situations.

One study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that individuals with autism are at “substantially heightened risk for death from injury.” Autism itself rarely causes serious injury or death unless there is some comorbid condition (i.e., epilepsy, depression, etc.). However children under 15 with autism are at especially high risk for:

Wandering/bolting is also concerning, especially because roughly one-third of kids on the spectrum are unable to communicate their name, address or phone number when asked. In one study published in the journal Pediatrics, almost half of the more than 1,200 children with autism studied had wandered from home, school or another safe place at least once before they turned 4. Many were missing long enough for there to be substantial risk of drowning, being hurt in traffic or environmental exposure.

As noted by The American Occupational Therapy Association, autism-related wandering tends to be most common during:

  • Warmer months;
  • Outdoor activities;
  • Visits to new environments;
  • Transition times;
  • Times of stress.

We share the information of these perils with our FOCUS families not to cause an undue alarm or distress, but because we know that learning the risks and common triggers of these safety issues can help families better understand and prepare.

How Occupational Therapy and ABA Therapy Can Help

Our occupational therapy and ABA therapy approaches to safety issues will depend heavily on the specific concerns you have and also how your child learns best. Usually, we’ll incorporate things like visual cues, gesturing and modeling to build on their strengths and address their weaknesses.

We start by identifying the most pressing risks and then breaking down the process to learn it into smaller steps, with ultimate goals like:

  • Staying near a parent or in designated areas or to hold hands
  • Identifying safe people or community signs
  • Communicating their own name, caregiver name, phone number and address
  • Staying safe around cars, school buses and other traffic
  • Tolerating certain items/sounds/places in a community

Behavioral skills training is something our ABA therapists might use. This is a research-based intervention that utilizes the teaching components of instruction, modeling, rehearsal and feedback. It can help address specific scenarios like parking lot safety or dangers in the kitchen.

Occupational therapists can target things like anxiety, impulse control, trouble with transitions, social skill deficits and sensory integration – each of which can be a detriment to your child’s safety. We’ll likely utilize some combination of social stories, visual calendars, relaxation techniques and other proven clinical strategies.

Keep in mind that just because we’re working to address serious concerns does not mean the therapy itself has to be serious. Children always learn best through play, so therapy sessions are still going to be fun for your child no matter what.

Our pediatric therapy team is also happy to discuss safety solutions with your child’s teachers and other caregivers and local first responders. We want to make sure all children in Southwest Florida are safe, no matter what their diagnosis. If you have questions about developing safety strategies your child, we will do our best to provide answers and help you find solutions.

FOCUS offers occupational therapy and ABA therapy for children in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online for more information.

Additional Resources:

Keeping Your Child With Autism Safe, Oct. 1, 2019, Safety.com

More Blog Entries:

The Deal With Fort Myers ADOS Testing: FOCUS ABA Therapy for Autism Starts With ADOS, Sept. 25, 2019, Fort Myers Occupational Therapy and ABA Therapy Blog

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