Safety Basics for Families Living with ASD


All parents worry about how to keep their children safe. When your child is on the autism spectrum, safety becomes an even greater concern. Parents of a child on the autism spectrum need to develop safety plans. These plans should be based on how well your child can communicate, his or her personal interests, and sensory issues.

Have regular and frequent safety talks with your child. Many children on the autism spectrum learn from repetition, so repeating rules, expectations, and plans can be beneficial. When you teach safety rules, make sure to list where to use the rules, such as school, the park, or a store. If your child likes to wander or likes to play in water, make sure to spend extra time talking about those safety rules.

Having a plan can help you to find your child if he or she is missing. The first step in your plan should be increasing awareness both in your child and those around him or her.

Have your child practice what to do if he or she is lost. If your child is not verbal or would have trouble telling others that he or she is lost, a bracelet or other product can give responders helpful information. Make sure your child practices how to show the product.

If your child tends to wander away, make sure that all family, caretakers, and school staff know of this pattern. Give them a plastic-coated card with your child’s name, current picture, diagnosis, emergency contact numbers, and what your child does and does not respond well to. Also talk to your neighbors and local police about your child’s tendency to wander and give them the same up-to-date information. Most police stations have systems, such as the PREMISE Alert System, where you can submit a file for your child with special needs and include important information for responders.
Water is another top safety concern. Check all gates, pool covers, toilet locks, and any other safety devices, especially if your child is drawn to water. When your child can start swimming lessons varies, but being able to swim independently is only one benefit of lessons. Children also learn basic water safety rules through early childhood swim programs. Many programs offer adaptive swim lessons for children on the autism spectrum. These programs are a great way for your child to learn about water safely and comfortably.

The Safety Center at CHOP is able to suggest and provide safety products at an affordable price. The health educators within the center can help families with several different product types, including transportation (for example, car vests and seat belt adjusters), home (gates, alarms), and identification (cards, bracelets). The Safety Center is located on the first floor of CHOP’s Main Building and is open weekdays from 10 am to 4 pm. The Safety Center is available by phone at 267-426-5000.

Related Articles:
When to Call 911?
Water Safety
Stranger Danger

Recommended Link:
CAR Resource Directory (search under topic of Safety)

Additional Resources:
A Guide to Safety, from the Organization for Autism Research
CHOP Safety Center
Safety in the Home, from the Autism Society of America
Safety Products, from Autism Speaks
Safety Tips, from Autism Speaks
Philadelphia Police Premise Disability Form
Chester County Premise Online Form
General Premise Alert Form, approved in PA
Premise Alert Form, Spanish
Vacation Premise Alert Form
PA Premise Alert FAQ

Last Updated: June 3, 2020

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.

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