Traffic-related mishaps account for a large number of deaths and injuries amongst our society’s children and youth. When a child has special needs, the risk factor can increase dramatically due to several factors including:
- Lack of awareness of danger
- Heightened distractibility
- Difficulty or inability to filter out background stimuli
- Higher levels of impulsivity
- Higher levels of restlessness and lower levels of patience (e.g. being able to “wait”)
- Greater cognitive and learning challenges
Therefore, as parents and educators, we need to work that much harder to teach our children with special needs about street and traffic safety and employ strategies that that can help compensate for any developmental or cognitive challenges our kids might face. Here are some tips and resources you may find helpful in making the streets safer for your special needs child.
Teach your child how to wait
When it comes to sitting quietly in a restaurant until family members finish their meals, having a turn on the swings at the playground, or crossing the street safely, waiting is an important skill for every person to have. Having said that, it can also be a difficult one for many individuals who have special needs to acquire on their own. Here is a great video resource that can help you teach your child how to wait.
Utilize technology and virtual reality
Research emanating from Israel and the US has demonstrated the effectiveness of virtual learning, proving not only that students with special needs can make progress by way of computer-based traffic simulations, but more importantly, that their learning generalizes or transfers over to real-life situations.
Do2Learn’s Street Safety Page features free downloadable songs, videos and an activity page.
Practicing Street Crossing is an iPad and iPhone App that retails for $1.99 on Apple’s iTunes Store that creatively teaches players how and where to cross the street safely.
Benefit from pre-existing curriculums
Walksafe.com, a Florida-based child safety initiative, has produced three comprehensive curriculums that include student worksheets, lesson plans for teachers, relevant vocabulary, flashcards, videos, and a host of other hands-on learning materials.
Watch Walksafe’s video, “Stop and Look With Willie Whistle” for Grades K-3
Watch Walksafe’s video, “Walking With Your Eyes” for Grades 4-5
Use visuals you find online or make yourself
Many individuals with special needs find visual cues, schedules and checklists to be extremely helpful in learning new skills, including crossing the street. As one example, Special Education Technology British Columbia made this handy downloadable resource.
Try Video Modeling
Video modeling is an excellent way to teach individuals with special needs new skills and routines. States video modeling expert, Michael Leventhal, “Video Modeling has been tested to help with communication, disruptive classroom behavior, increasing on-task behavior, … teach complex social sequences, as a treatment procedure, as an evidence-based treatment for children with autism.” To explore this concept further, read Helping Autistic children learn with Video Modeling techniques.
Teach your child within his or her ability level and set reasonable goals
Not every teaching methodology will work with every child. For example, most of the information conveyed within the videos provided above would be lost on Michael, my 17-year-old son who has Autism. Due to his more severe language deficits and almost non-existent ability to comprehend dangerous situations, our goals for making Michael street-safe are very different than those developed for other individuals who fall elsewhere on the Autism Spectrum or who have different special needs. Their teachers and caregivers may be striving for their students to gain greater or complete independence where our goal is to ensure that Michael is under our control at all times when we are out so that he does not suddenly dart into the path of a moving car.
We have accomplished this by teaching Michael to stop upon reaching a curb, look at the adult beside him whose hand he is holding, and say with his best approximation “Stop, is it safe?” He has learned that he is not to move until his helper states, “Yes” at which time they can together cross the street or parking lot. Basically, we have “paired” or associated the act of reaching a curb with the behavior of stopping, in order to ensure that Michael’s companion can have a moment to assess the traffic situation in order to keep our son safe from harm. What continues to amaze me is how completely ingrained this behavior has become in Michael.
I must confess that there are times when my head is in too many different places, I’m walking through a parking lot, hand-in-hand with him, and forget to stop upon reaching a curb. Suddenly, our walk comes to an abrupt halt as I feel Michael’s hand gently tugging on mine, making me smile and reminding me how much I value the dedication of Michael’s wonderful team of therapist, and of course the effort that Michael puts into his learning every day.