Our Autism Helpline has received numerous calls from parents/carers concerned about their child's lack of road safety or awareness of danger. This page explores practical steps you can take to keep an autistic person who lacks an appropriate sense of danger safe and help them develop awareness skills themselves.

Consider the reason for the person's dangerous behaviour

Although there may be a lack of understanding as to why they should not do something, it is important to make sure there is not anything else that is encouraging the dangerous behaviour. For example, our natural reaction when someone is in danger is to react strongly to make sure they stay safe. However, the person may enjoy being chased, or like the attention they get. If this is the case, when removing them to safety do so with the minimum amount of eye contact and communication. Just say, 'No running' and reinforce this with a no running or no climbing symbol. If this is particularly problematic whilst walking along the road, try and provide distractions to keep their mind off running away. This can be done either by pointing out things in the environment, singing their favourite song or have them bring something along to distract them. This way the person will also get positive attention when they are not running out on to the road as well as being distracted.

Use Social Stories™ to explain potential dangers

You may find it useful to write a social story on why we cannot run out on the road or climb out of a window. They provide visual information as well as spoken and can be referred to before an event. For example, before you go out for a walk you could read out the story on why it is we do not run out into the road.

Use toys or interactive games to teach road safety

You may also find it useful to role play crossing the road safely. Many toy shops sell road safety signs, car mats and toy cars and you may find it useful to play out different scenarios to show why it is dangerous to run out into the road. There are also a number of interactive games on the internet that can also teach about safety and crossing the road safely:

Adapt unsafe environments

Sometimes it can be easier to modify the environment the person lives in rather than their behaviour. A number of companies sell alarms and locks for doors and windows that will go off when someone opens the door, or will only open a window a small amount. There are also safety harnesses that you can buy for both children and adults. You can search for safety equipment suppliers in our Autism Services Directory.

Recommended reading

Clements, J. and Zarkowska, E. (2000). Behavioural concerns and autistic spectrum disorders: explanations and strategies for change. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Clement, J. (2005). People with autism behaving badly: helping people with ASD move on from behavioural and emotional challenges. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Dunn Baron, K. and Curtis, M. (2003). The incredible 5-point scale: assisting children with ASDs in their understanding social interactions and controlling their emotional responses. Shawnee Mission, Kansas: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.

May, F. (2005). Understanding behaviour. London: The National Autistic Society.

Whittaker, P. (2002). Challenging behaviour and autism: making sense - making progress. A guide to preventing and managing challenging behaviour for parents and teachers. London: The National Autistic Society.

Willey, L. H. (2012). Safety skills for Asperger women: how to save a perfectly good female life. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Quick link to this page: www.autism.org.uk/roadsafety

Last reviewed: 19 February 2017