Fire Safety for Children with Autism and Other Special Needs


Brockton, Mass., – October, Fire Safety Month, is a great time to think about what you and your family would do if you had a fire in your home. While all parents are interested in keeping their children safe from fire, parents of children with autism and other special needs face unique challenges when it comes to teaching their sons and daughters about the dangers of fire and what to do in the event of a fire.

“The first thing parents can do is talk to their children about fire safety,” says Melanie DuBard, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Vice President of Clinical and Educational Services for May Institute. “Be sure your child understands what fire is and why it is dangerous. You may want to create a special story or booklet that you can use to help explain your family’s safety rules about the stove, the fireplace, and candles. Be sure to include all family members when you are creating and practicing your emergency escape-from-the-house plan, and have an agreed-upon place outside of the home where you will meet.”

The National Fire Protection Association advises parents to teach their children to “get low and go.” When you talk to your children about fire safety, explain that “getting low” helps people avoid breathing deadly smoke when they are exiting a burning house. Showing your children pictures of someone “getting low and going” and practicing this during fire drills can be helpful.

Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and outside all bedrooms, and test them regularly. “But keep in mind that children with autism and other special needs are frightened by loud noises,” advises Dr. DuBard. “It’s a good idea to include a section in your story booklet about the sounds that accompany a fire such as smoke alarms and fire engine sirens.”

You may want to consider purchasing talking fire alarms that will broadcast a recording of your voice calmly instructing your family to leave the house by a planned route. Studies show that fewer than half of children ages 6-15 wake up to a traditional fire alarm. They are much more likely to respond to their mother or father’s voice.

“Also consider how frightening the sight of firefighters entering your home in full uniform would be to your child,” adds Dr. Dubard. “Why not take a ‘field trip’ to your local fire station this month? Your child could meet some firefighters and see what they look like dressed in their uniforms.”

Safe Kids USA offers the following safety tips for families who have children with special needs:

  • If your child is non-verbal, give him or her a whistle or a bell to keep by their bedside so s/he can alert others in case of an emergency.
  • Create visual aids to put above doors to highlight your family’s escape route.
  • Contact your local fire department and provide them with information about your child with special needs. (You can download an information sheet from the Safe Kids website at

Make October Fire Safety Month at your house! A little advanced planning and practicing can make all the difference if the unthinkable happens.

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