Wednesday, January 02, 2019

How to Teach Safety Skills to Kids with Hyperlexia & Autism

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Hyperlexia teaching strategies and tips for how to teach personal safety skills to children with hyperlexia and/or autism.

I remember when my son was a toddler, he figured out how to open all the doors in and around our house. Not too difficult considering we have those annoying horizontal flat handles instead of the round ones. Sure they look nice, but they're pretty easy for a child (and even our cat!) to open. Regardless, if our doors weren't locked, then he could have easily slipped out the door by himself.

When he was a preschooler, he would sometimes wander off the driveway or down the street to look at license plates on parked cars. A scary thought considering we lived on a busy street corner.

Then when he was in kindergarten, he ended up in the staff parking lot on more than one occasion during recess time (this was prior to his actual diagnosis). He just wanted to look at all the license plates and count the cars, but still, a parking lot is not a safe place for him to play obviously.

Then there is the first time we ever went to IKEA and we lost him. Thankfully, we found him a minute or two later reciting our names to another adult.

Personal safety issues like these are common worries for parents of hyperlexic and/or autistic children. We worry about things like how to help my child understand simple directions and keep them safe. So we seek out hyperlexia teaching strategies that will actually help.

Below you will find eight hyperlexia teaching strategies to help teach your child about personal safety skills. This list of strategies is geared specifically towards hyperlexic children, but the strategies below may also be helpful for autistic children who do not have hyperlexia.

How to teach personal safety skills to kids with hyperlexia or autism

Strategies for Teaching Children with Hyperlexia About Personal Safety

Here are 8 ways to teach your hyperlexic child about personal safety skills:

1. Use social stories to teach about personal safety

Hyperlexic kids need to be taught social skills directly and social stories are a great way to do just that. You can write a social story about any personal safety topic from what to do when you're lost, why we walk in a parking lot, wearing a seatbelt, etc. For example, I have this crossing the street social story that teaches kids about road safety.

2. Put up physical barriers and keep things properly secured

Ensuring all outside doors (and even windows) are locked is a simple strategy to help keep your child safe. You can also put up physical barriers like baby gates or fences to block off dangerous areas. Something like this would have been a great option for when my son would wander into the school parking lot during recess.

3. Work on reinforcing skills like holding hands

Many kids with hyperlexia and/or autism may dislike being touched and, as a result, refuse to hold hands while walking in a parking lot or while crossing a street. My son hated to hold hands and would often let go, but I eventually found a hand holding trick that worked wonders for us!

4. Use maps

Did you know that many hyperlexic kids are fascinated with maps? Yep, 'tis true! So why not use their fascination to their benefit? Provide your child with maps and let them use the maps to see where everything is and point out which places are safe and which are dangerous. You could even mark the map with the words safe and dangerous (or similar words like stop and go) to help.

5. Put up signs with simple rules

It's no secret that the hyperlexic child can read. So write, write, write! Write simple rules onto a piece of paper and hang them up in appropriate places. For example, you could put a sign on an outside door that says something like, "Go find mom or dad before opening this door." You'll be shocked at how well this simple strategy works. It's something I recently did with J's forgetfulness regarding his glasses (see my Instagram story highlights).

6. Put up stop signs for anything that is unsafe or off limits

Lots of hyperlexic kids like traffic signs, warning signs, and traffic lights. Use that interest to help teach personal safety skills too! Put a picture of a stop light or stop sign on anything that might be dangerous, harmful, or just simply off limits to your child.

7. Install door chimes/bells

If you have a home security system, then you might already have this feature. Every time a door opens, the alarm will chime, ding, or say something like "front door open," which alerts you to a child attempting to leave.

8. Teach scripted language about personal safety

Social scripts are a useful tool for teaching hyperlexic kids about the language they might need for certain scenarios. In terms of personal safety, teach your child scripts about how to answer the following questions:

  • What is your name? My name is ____________
  • Where do you live? I live at _____________
  • What are your parents' names? My parents' names are _______ and ________.
  • How old are you? I am ___ years old.
  • What's your phone number? My phone number is ___________.
That way if your child gets lost, like say in IKEA, then they can be prepared to answer questions that they might get asked. That is precisely what happened with J when he got lost in IKEA. He was asked what our names were and he kept repeating it because we had already taught him that useful script.

Another script we taught him was our license plate number since, after all, he loved license plates and our license plate could be traced back to us. It came in handy too when I needed to provide my license plate number for parking meters or hotels...just saying.

How to teach personal safety skills to kids with hyperlexia or autism