The ability to cross the street or go out in the community is not something that we should ever take for granted. It allows us to experience so many incredible things. I remember one of my first placements as a student in my psychology undergrad. It was in a group home for adults and I was sent there to observe and learn about a behaviour plan for a 27 year old woman. This woman had autism and had been in this home for quite some time. I was very surprised to find out that for many years prior to me coming to meet her, that her life had essentially been confined to 4 walls. Unfortunately, when she was out in the community, she may engage in challenging behaviour that put her at risk for injury. In order to mitigate this, the decision had been made that she was no longer able to participate on the community outings until they were able to teach her some safety skills that would make it possible to go out. Without getting into too much detail, it was years ago and I suspect and hope that she is now able to go out on community outings, but the reason that I mention it here is because meeting this woman had a profound effect on me. Imagine being confined to a house for most of your life? I will never forget her because as I began to learn more about Behavior Analysis I knew that there were things that could be done to empower this woman to keep her safe while at the same time allowing her the freedom to participate in group community outings when she chose. This encounter is actually one of the two that inspired me to pursue a Master’s degree in Behavior Analysis. Inspiration aside, going out in the community can be tricky if you think about it. There are streets and sidewalks, vehicles and depending on where you are, lots of moving vehicles and/or other people. Many of the individuals with autism that I work with have needed help to navigate the real world safely.
One area that I have been asked to help people with autism with is on pedestrian safety. Namely, crossing the street safely. For example knowing when it is safe to cross the street requires that you know that a moving car is not something you want to walk in front of, that you can identify that a car is moving as opposed to stopped. It involves reading street crossing symbols and traffic lights, but even if you know when it is safe based on the colour of the light, you also need to look both ways to see if someone might be running a red light. You need to know when and where to stop and wait, do you stop at the curb, or a little bit away from the curb. All of these are things that we can teach, which can empower someone with really important skills that they can use in the community ultimately leading to more autonomy. Check out my guest article for Different Roads to Learning on teaching pedestrian safety to people with autism. I break it down for you in some simple steps. I also include a tracking sheet and some visuals in case your student is a visual learner.