Home > Topic of the Week > Traffic, Pedestrian Safety, and Autism

Traffic, Pedestrian Safety, and Autism

This week we want to hear your family’s experiences teaching “traffic and pedestrian safety,” to your children with autism.

Many families have serious concerns about their children with autism and traffic dangers while walking to school, playing in the neighborhood, and doing everyday activities in your area. Let’s learn from each other by sharing what worked, or in some cases, didn’t work for your family.

How did you teach your child to be careful in and around traffic? Did you find any books, specific curriculum, or other resources helpful? Were there useful websites? What can you recommend to other families to help keep their child safe?

  1. November 2, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I think in our case, only maturity helped. As a child, our five year old autistic son could ride his pedal-tractor in the street with the other neighbor children because we lived on a dead-end street.Then, they opened the street to build more houses, and he seemed to have no inkling of the “cause and effect” relationship between cars and severe injury. When a car stopped for him, he would even stay in the street, get off of his pedal-tractor, and circle the car…looking at the shiny chrome headlights and tail lights. This angered more than one neighbor, as they had NO idea of what Ben’s limitations were in the “perception of danger” category. I had to resort to saying, “Ben, the cars will run over you and smash you, and it would hurt REAL bad!” Even this made very little impact on his overall understanding of the situation.Scolding, reasoning or even a swat on the bottom were ALL to no avail! He changed my admonition to, “The cars will run over you, and smash you, and kill you, and it will hurt REAL bad!”

    As an adult…We take walks frequently when he is home and he can hear a car coming more than a block away, and quickly gets up on the curb, scurrying for safety. We don’t know where or when his perception changed…but are SO thankful that it did. See autism45.wordpress.com for more to “Symptoms of Autism…Ben as a child, then as an adult” Carole Norman Scott

  2. November 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    LOVE THIS TOPIC! I am definitely looking for help! I have a 3 year old who is a flight risk in any environment and tends to flee when he is frustrated or upset. Just last week he squirmed out of my arms during a fit and took off while in the school parking lot and was almost hit. He doesn’t hear my voice when he is in a “state” so yelling to “STOP” doesn’t work. Comprehending “traffic = danger” is not something he is capable of at this point.

  3. Cecilia Feeley
    November 3, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you for bringing this to the forefront. This is something some of us have been trying to address for a few years now.

    Personally I believe that learning teaching street crossing is fundamental for individuals on the spectrum. Without having this skill people are limited in their transportation options and community integration.

    There are safe route to school programs but I have not heard of any that have specialized instruction for individuals with ASD or other developmental disabilities.

    There are some amazing travel trainers at the NYC Dept of Ed that specialize in street crossing. I have went to some of their trainings and there is a real science to teaching street crossing. Also street crossing and parking lot navigation are very different. I have heard that training to walk through a parking lot can be more difficult than street crossing.

    A few years ago NIPD-YAI had a video called Safe Street Crossing developed for people with developmental disabilities that had some techniques available.

    The University of Haifa has done some research on teaching street crossing with VR for individuals with ASD and have had some positive results.

    Also the Dr. Gaffney and NADS at the University of Iowa have some great street crossing simulator project proposals for individuals on the spectrum, however they have the funding required yet.

  4. Anne
    November 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I agree age has helped. Our son had concept of the dangers of the street b/c our neighborhood has no sidewalks, and when we walked/rode, it was always in the street. I would try to explain, but to no avail, even in very simple terms. then, this past summer, he wanted to walk, so we did and crossed a squished, dead frog. He asked me what it was. I told him a frog who was squished by a car in the road, and went through the usual street safety talk. Ever since then, he will warn US if cars are approaching with, “We need to be safe: We don’t want to get squished!” I believe Temple Grandin describes something similar.

  5. Pao2310
    November 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    My son is a runner. More than once he has kept running until reaching a busy street, laughing and joking while looking back at everyone chasing him.
    Leashes didntmwork for me because he would turn into spaghetti and just lay in the floor giggling.
    Now that he is understanding more i findmthat reminding him of the wonder pets episode about the little kangaroo that is lost becuase he ran away fromhis mother works well for us. I told him we would be lost like the baby kangaroo, sad and scared looking for mommy. After a few weeks, maybe 2 months of watching the episode and teminding him, it seems he getsnit now.
    When he starts getting too far away from me imtell him to come back and stay close to mama. When he doesnt come back right away i bring upmthe baby kangaroo. So far its beem about four weeks since he last run away from me.
    We arenstill working on traffic. I dont focus on why he should not run to the street (he is not allowed to play near streets) or parking lot. I just gave him the rule: you always hold mommy’s hand when crossing street and parking lot. Even if he is holding mymhand i just reperat hatnphrase everytime we are walking near street ot parking lot. Now he says it on his own sometimrs.

    I sometimes explain that if he doesnt hold my hand he will get HIT by a car and will get many booboos and we will have to go to see the dr for shots. It doesnt look like the explanation sinks in yet so i focus on my rule.

  6. KDL
    November 3, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Our daughter is fairly mildly affected by autism, but we live on a very busy intersection. When she was younger she was not allowed in our front yard unless she was strapped in a stroller or we were holding her hand. Pretty much every time we walk (and I mean starting even before she was born) we talk about “cars can’t see you”, stay on the sidewalk, cross with the light and with mom or dad. All of our doors that lead outside have a bell signal so that we know if she is going out. Now even if she’s riding her bike and way ahead of us she stops at the corner and won’t cross without us. I am not sure if she’ll even have good enough judgement to step out alone. Making it a part of her routine has been our biggest help. That said, I’m also working hard to get our city to make our intersection safer, not just for her, but for all her schoolmates and their families.

  7. Chrissy DiBiasio
    November 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    I would draw a chalk line to where he was allowed to ride his bike he was good with that for awhile.There is a game on video Simpson’s hit and run,well he loves this game but to some point he doesn’t understand the seriousness at times and other times he does.Its a never ending battle of a guessing game of what they understand and don’t.It’s frustrating somedays.

  8. Tom
    November 3, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    I struggle with this. My son is oblivious to traffic and does not look before crossing–on foot or bicycle. Any suggestions appreciated.

    • November 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm

      Congrats for getting him on the bike, and check out Chrissy above, with the chalk visual. If he responds to PCS, he can respond to other symbols.

  9. Pamela Gosnell
    November 3, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I worry about this a lot. I have a 3 yr-old with Autistic Disorder. Habitat for Humanity built our house, which we are very grateful for, but it is a strange lot. We have a corner lot with a large front and side yard but no back yard at all. We live diagonally across the street from the elementary school playground, and one block from a VERY busy street. Cars often accelerate WAY too fast between the school and busy street, and sometimes when it is not during school traffic they just ignore the 4-way stop altogether, and due to city code, we are not allowed to fence the front yard. We could fence the side yard, but that wouldn’t help much because it doesn’t have direct access from either front or back door. When we built the house, he was a year old, and we had no idea he was Autistic. There is a way to apply for a waiver with the city, but we would probably have to get a lawyer to accomplish that, and we don’t even really have the money to build the fence or pay for autism treatments, let alone a lawyer. He does a pretty good job of staying out of the street, mostly I think b/c his 6 yr-old brother is very diligent at watching him and strategically steering him back toward the house, that is if I cannot jump up and catch him in time. Occasionally he may follow a bird, ball, squirrel, etc., and so far the few times I haven’t caught him b4 he got to the street, nothing was coming. I am terrified that one of these days his brother and I won’t be able to catch him fast enough, particularly b/c I am 14 weeks pregnant and worry about having a baby and sprinting after him. I have tried and tried to teach him that the cars can hurt him badly, but the concept seems to be too abstract for him to comprehend without actually getting hurt. I can’t even get him to look both ways b4 crossing (which he never does without an adult having a firm hold on his hand). If he gets too close to the street and I tell him to stop, he runs over by the intersection and hugs the post for the stop sign. This is a nice small town, and I don’t want to go to battle against the city. I just want my son to be safe. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

    • November 12, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      Pamela, you need a fense. Maybe a community program, or teen volunteers (hey boyscouts live for this stuff) can make your situation a special project. Contact the school system and local programs to inquire. It never hurts to ask.

      • Pamela Gosnell
        November 13, 2011 at 4:58 pm

        Mary, the problem is that even if we had the money and ability to build a fence, we couldn’t do so without a lawyer. The city has a local code stating you cannot have a fence in the front yard at all, particularly on a corner lot (which we have). To obtain a waiver, you have to prove that it would not change the “look of the neighborhood” and that it would not obstruct the view of drivers at the intersection. This would not be easy to prove to the satisfaction to those on the necessary committees. Chances are we would be denied unless we hired a lawyer, which we can’t afford.

  10. November 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    As a teacher, I have seen this be a problem sometimes with higher functioning kids as well. Teaching kids to use all of their senses to take in the various environments is the approach I am using now. There is danger in the streets, danger in the kitchen, danger in the grocery store…but if we teach kids to practice looking, listening, smelling, feeling, and hearing what is in their environment, they will have a better chance of developing safe habits. They need multiple opportunities and repeated practice in using these skills to develop habits. If the school they go to does not provide these kind of experiences, then parents really need to look for a way to allow their child to have these kind of learning experiences with the amount of supervision that is appropriate. It is important as a parent to be aware of your child’s strengths and vulnerabilities and not put them in a situation they are not ready for.

  11. chel
    November 4, 2011 at 2:07 am

    My son is 5 now, but I’d say about at least a year ago, I noticed he got used to holding my hand whenever we get out of the car. It’s normally in a parking lot or street parking where there are cars around still….so it’s a habit EVERYTIME he gets out of the car to hold my hand. I’m always saying “hold my hand.” Then when I put him on the curb if I need to tend to my daughter, groceries – whatever – I make it clear to “stay here”. I still say and do these things, so he just knows to do it. If I feel he’s running to any area that maybe dangerous…I definitely yell, “Kyle, STOP!” He hears me and does stop. I’m guessing repetition/routine is all it took for me. Lately though, I’ve added more explanation (because my mischievous 3 yr old daughter needs more details why) as to why we don’t run around where there are cars….because they can hit you and hurt REAL REAL BAD, make you cry and you won’t like it at all…so we always have to be careful around cars.

  12. Andrea
    November 9, 2011 at 2:10 am

    All I can say is WOW !!!!I My son Nicholas is 7 years old now all the yelling telling and street safety in the world hasn’t helped him one little bit . It is unfortunate for him beacuse he loves to beoutside but he is a danger to himself when we are out of the house . He is attrated to cars almost like an obsession with them . I can’t tell you how many times I have had to grab him back from the curb to stop him from being run over . I have gotten my fair share of bad looks from angry drivers over this . I had one man tell me I was a bad mother and told to watch my child . It is sooooo fustrating for me at times I want to just scream but it does no good . I have no understanding of why he is obsessed with cars and the movement of the tires . I don’t know what else to do . I had a fence installed around my home when he was a baby and all the locks and bolts in the world can’t confine him . he hops the fence sometimes before I even know what has happened . He finds his way out of the house even with alarms and locks I feel like I live in fort knox sometimes . he went so far as to open the front room window trying to get out and when he realized the screen was stopping him he started kicking it until it gave way . it took alll of 30 seconds for him to get out of the house that day . now all of my windows are nailed shut and are now a fire hazard but what am I to do ???? No one can prepare your for motherhood that alone is hard enough but to have a special needs child and i have 3 of them is just down right beyond difficult and many many people take for granted the normal things there kids do to be a pain in the butt . Nicholas dosen’t try to be a pain he just has NOOOOOOO self control at all . I worry about him so much I lose sleep thinking he is going to get out of the house again in the middle of the night and being non verbal he can’t tell anyone who he is where he lives and that for me is the worst part of all of this . he is my baby biy and if something ever happened to him i would be devestated ..

  13. November 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    I think having moved quite a lot over the years has been good for my son in this respect. He is more aware of cars in multiple environments, and has started looking both ways before crossing from our covered parking spot to the apartment building. He is a sensory seeker, however, meaning he could still go off on a tangent and forget the walking and crossing process. He knows to stay on sidewalks, and at eight years of age, I am very grateful for that since three neurotypical people have died this year at a local crossing as pedestrians. And these incidents happened within two and a half months time! So pedestrian safety is an issue in our area, though so is drinking.

  1. November 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm

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