Summer is the time for being outside and trying new activities. As with anything new, there are risks involved. A child on the autism spectrum can be particularly vulnerable to a number of safety concerns; however, summertime fun and maintaining safety can coexist.
Preparing for summer activities typically requires planning and strategizing. It will be necessary to assess current safety skills to gauge appropriateness of participation for your child. The first questions should address compliance and immediate personal safety:
- Will my child stop (running, climbing, etc.) when asked to?
- Does my child respond when I call his or her name?
- Will my child come to me when requested?
- Does my child walk safely with me or do I need to hold his or her hand?
- Will my child comply with safety devices if needed, e.g., safety helmet, personal flotation device (PFD), seatbelt?
The answers to these questions should be determined by what your child does on a consistent basis. Even if the answers are “no”, it does not mean that your child can not participate in summer activities. Many parks and playgrounds have areas that are protected by fences; this will prevent a child from wandering too far. There may be times of the week when a community pool is quieter or there are more trained staff available; both can make close supervision easier. Conversations with support groups could help families with similar needs plan outings for which they share their skill and experience of helping their children. It may be possible to recruit family members and friends to help with supervision from time to time. If you’re not certain your child will comply with safety devices such as a PFD (personal floatation device, such as a life vest) or a safety helmet, then it will be helpful to practice at home where there is no risk and it is possible to directly reward your child for compliance. Similarly, it is possible to begin compliance training for stopping, responding, and walking safely at home.
It is also important to assess children who are working on advanced safety skills. Other questions to consider include:
- Does my child recognize and follow “Walk,” “Don’t Walk,” and other traffic and pedestrian safety signs?
- Does my child always cross the street safely even if his favorite ice cream truck is on the other side?
- Does my child walk safely in parking lots?
- Is my child able to return to a designated meeting point if he or she becomes separated?
- Is my child able to independently get help from camp counselors if necessary?
These are just a few of the safety skills that should be considered. Though seemingly direct and simple, safety questions can be difficult to ask and assess as they pinpoint skill deficits and concerns that, at first glance, appear to be barriers to inclusion and community activities. However, taking time to assess your child’s ability to maintain his or her own safety will help identify activities that can be fun and safe. Having a strong sense of your child’s personal safety skills will help you choose places you would like your child to go, activities that he or she could be successful with, and how much supervision will be needed to maintain safety.