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Teaching Children with Autism Road Safety

Lots of children with autism lack danger awareness and quite frankly, that can be terrifying. It means that they are vulnerable and at risk of injuring themselves. They can also be over and under-sensitive to smells, textures and sounds, impacting their ability to process information. When near traffic, this can be dangerous as it can be distracting and overwhelming. All of this means that teaching autistic children road safety is paramount. In this blog, we will discuss how to reach road safety for children with autism.

Why do children with autism need additional road safety training?

There are a number of behaviours that Autistic children display that can often mean that additional steps need to be taken to ensure they are safe.

  • Difficulty thinking and behaving flexibly. This means your child may not apply what they have learned to every relevant situation, so they need extra help and encouragement to generalise skills and adapt them to new situations.
  • Difficulty understanding social contexts meaning that they may not respond to being taught about road safety in the context of what is right and wrong.
  • Difficulty communicating and understanding they might find it difficult to communicate with a supervising adult or may struggle to understand their instructions when it comes to road safety.
  • Over and under sensitivity to smells, textures and sounds, can lead to situations where your child panics if they are over sensitive to sound or an under sensitivity can mean a lack of awareness of danger.
  • Lack of concentration and being distracted easily meaning that they might get distracted when crossing the road or stop and look/listen before crossing
A blue street sign highlighting a walkway and cycle path. Attached to a black post with the cycle lane and markings shown in the background.

Things to consider when teaching road safety skills:

Consider their level of comprehension.

When thinking about road safety, consider your child’s level of comprehension and what they will be able to understand. This will help you to determine the best way to communicate to them and others how to be safe.

Use key language and visuals.

It’s important to use clear and concise language, for example, ‘stop’, ‘look’ and ‘listen’ when crossing the road or ‘no running’. You can use visuals to reinforce this. Social stories can be used to demonstrate things like zebra crossings, pelican crossings and the importance of crossing the road carefully. You can also role-play these scenarios using toy cars.

Use distraction techniques

If your child is easily distracted crossing the road, you could use distractions to keep them focussed, such as singing a song or pointing out things you can see. If your child has sensory differences, using a fidget toy or their favourite toy might help to keep them calm and distracted.

Use bright-coloured clothing and aids

When your child is going to be outside, put them in brightly coloured clothing so that they are easier for drivers to see. At night time, consider a high vis/fluorescent jacket. If your child cannot learn how to cross a road by themselves and will not hold an adult’s hand, use a harness to keep them safe, particularly if your child is at risk of running off. You should also consider an emergency bracelet, necklace or something to keep on your person with your name and telephone number. The National Autistic Society has an ‘I am autistic’ card that might also be helpful.

Read books and watch videos

There are books and videos available online that teach road safety to young children. These might be helpful.

Make sure that everyone is aware of their safety needs

Speak to your family, friends and teaching staff at your child’s school to make sure that everyone is aware of your child’s road safety needs. You cannot assume that everyone will understand the help that they require and so it’s important to discuss this with anyone who might be involved in their care.

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