May Institute and Safe Kids Columbus Teach Child Safety Skills to Children with Autism and Other Special Needs


Columbus, GA: The Southeast Regional Autism Center and Safe Kids Columbus are teaming up today to address child safety concerns including wandering, for children with special needs at the 2nd Annual Salute to Safety. The event is being held at the Northern Little League Field in Columbus from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Salute to Safety will take place during opening day of the 2010 Challenger Little League Baseball program.

First responders from the local community and staff from the Southeast Regional Autism Center and Safe Kids Columbus will teach families and children with special needs how to stay safe and respond in the event of an emergency. Children will be able to climb aboard police cars, all-terrain and emergency medical vehicles, fire trucks, and even a helicopter used to transport patients.

The recent incident involving an 11-year-old child with autism in Florida, who wandered away from home, resulted in a “happy ending.” Yet, this and other stories across the country underscore the importance of providing parents with information that can help keep their children safe.

“Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other special needs are more likely to act impulsively – to run away or wander – than their typically developing peers. It is even more difficult for these children to distinguish a stranger from a friend, putting them in greater danger of becoming lost or hurt. Basic safety skills may some day become critical life-saving skills,” shares Melissa Chevalier, M.S., BCBA, Program Director of the Southeast Regional Autism Center in Columbus, GA, a program of May Institute. May Institute is a national network of programs serving individuals with ASD and other special needs.

Christy Hubbard, Director of Safe Kids Columbus, says “It is essential for both first responders in our community and children with special needs to feel secure around each other if an emergency were to occur. Having an opportunity to meet actual police, fire fighters and emergency response professionals that work in their community in an environment that is friendly and fun will make it more likely that these children will respond positively to first responders in the future.”

Some tips for families to help protect their children, courtesy of LoJack SafetyNet, include:

  • Advise local first responders: Fill out a disability indicator form and submit it to your local law enforcement agency. This will help alert law enforcement that a person residing at that address may require special assistance during an emergency. In addition to this form, complete a more detailed handout with information about your child that you can provide to first responders. Keep copies of your handout in printed and electronic formats so you can readily provide it to search and rescue personnel in the event of an incident.

  • Inform your neighbors: Give them a handout with a picture of your child, physical characteristics and emergency contact information. You may also want to describe your child’s fears and effective ways to approach, communicate with and calm your child. Ask them to contact you immediately if they see your child outside your home or property.

  • Place STOP or DO NOT ENTER signs on all doors opening to the outside: These can be powerful visual cues and reminders not to wander. You may also want to place these signs on your child’s classroom door. Because some children have an intense response to these types of signs, you should work with a professional to decide if this is appropriate for your child.

  • Secure your home: Use deadbolt locks, keep doors and windows locked and install an alarm/alert chimes on doors. Motion detectors and window bars may also be appropriate. Some individuals on the autism spectrum have exceptionally good visual-motor skills and are able to quickly debilitate locks.

  • Teach swimming at an early age: Individuals with autism are drawn to water sources such as pools, ponds and lakes. If your child has difficulty learning conventional swimming strokes, teach him or her drownproofing, a water survival technique that will help him or her stay afloat until help arrives.

  • Eliminate triggers for wandering: If your child has an obsession on a certain sound or object that draws him or her to investigate and wander, you may want to eliminate these distractions.

  • Get an ID bracelet or necklace and tag personal items: List your emergency contact information on personal IDs and on tags for shoes, clothes and backpacks. If your child has sensory issues and will not wear an accessory, use temporary tattoos with your contact information.

  • Consider a personal tracking device: A Radio Frequency (RF) device is ideal for people at risk of wandering, because it has strong signals than can penetrate any physical obstruction. With an RF device, your child can be found in places that a GPS or cellular product cannot reach, such as a wooded area or concrete building.

About Southeast Regional Autism Center
The Southeast Regional Autism Center offers a comprehensive set of educational and behavioral services to children and their families, private agencies, and public schools throughout the Tri-County area and beyond. The Center also provides services to military families stationed at Fort Benning and other bases across the Southeast. For more information, visit

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