The Holidays Are Here - have more fun and less problems by putting a clear, realistic Safety Plan in place before you venture out to the crowds.
This blog post was written by Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director. As the Executive Director and Founder of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, Irene van der Zande has extensive experience in teaching safety skills to people of all ages with all levels of autism.
Do Less! Avoid stress by making decisions about what you do or don’t do based on what is best for your family rather than on the expectations of others. Simplify holiday meals, gift-giving, and social gatherings. Instead of hurrying, slow down – drive more carefully, take more time for transitions, and prepare everyone.
Get Ready. Before you leave home, review the plan of what is going to happen and not happen in terms that make sense for your family, anticipating potential temptations and triggers. Be realistic about crowded stores, impatient shoppers, distracted drivers, and long lines.
For verbal children, you might say: “Today we are going to visit 3 new stores at the Great Big Mall to get presents and look at the decorations. We might have to park far away if the parking lot is full. Some drivers are not paying good attention so we will hold hands. If there are long lines and busy people, we will be patient and wait. We can tell stories while we are waiting. We are NOT going to visit the pet store today to look at the kittens but we can do that next month when things are quieter. We are NOT going to visit the ice cream store today but we can have a cookie when we get home. We are NOT going to buy presents for ourselves today but we can ‘bookmark’ in our minds if there is a present you might like to have someday. There will be lots of lights and noises. It will be interesting and fun. We will Stay Together and Check First before we change our plan.”
For less verbal children, review key safety rules in simple terms: Stay Together, Check First, Stop, and Wait.
If a family member with special needs requires constant supervision, be sure to have handoffs clear about who is responsible when. For example, “While I am trying on clothes, Maria will stay with Josephine and we will agree on a fun place to wait, such as the mirrors.”
Review the safety plan in case someone gets separated or lost. Have your mobile phone number on your child’s arm or a card. Take a photo with your cell phone. Practice how to wait and how to ask for help.
Remind, Watch, Intervene, and Redirect. When you arrive, review the plan or ask your child to repeat this back to you. At each new location, review what to do in case you get lost or separated – where to wait, who to ask for help, etc.
Split your attention so you can stay aware of what your children are doing all the time. Keep them next to you to avoid trouble. Remember that a child can get hurt, disappear, or do something unsafe in an instant. Be very consistent in intervening to stop unsafe behavior.
If something unexpected happens, stick with your plan unless it is an emergency. For example, if you run into a friend, avoid socializing unless that was part of your plan. Adult socializing can cause kids to get tired out and frustrated and to feel as if the plan isn’t actually real. Instead, you can keep moving and say, “It’s so nice to see you. I can’t stop to chat right now because I promised Christopher that we would stick with our shopping plan. Have a great day!”
Redirect wishes with compassion and humor. For example if a child is tired, you might sit on a bench and watch for a few minutes. Or you might say, “I wish I were an elephant and could carry everyone.”
Celebrate! At the end of each trip, review what went right. Congratulate family members on what they did to make this trip fun. Give a reward for a job well done! If something went wrong, discuss this at a different time, before you go out again. Remember that things don’t have to be perfect to be great!
Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International has been honored to be awarded a grant from Autism Speaks to increase the access and relevance of our “People Safety” curriculum for this community. For more ideas about how to make a safety plan, see, “Managing Wandering for People With Autism” with suggestions for parents from both Kidpower and Autism Speaks about how to protect their children.