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5793 Safety From Unintentional Injury for Children with ASD: An Under-Recognized Danger

Saturday, July 9, 2011: 1:30 PM-2:45 PM
Sun 5-6 (Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center)
Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) face elevated risks from unintentional injury. Characteristics of ASD are a contributing factor. Risks from drowning, falls, and wandering are largely under-recognized within the ASD community. This session explores these risks and offers specific suggestions and an advocacy agenda for the ASD community. Children and youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) face elevated risks from unintentional injury.  This session will look at some of these risk factors from four perspectives and then offer an array of suggestions for a coordinated, ASD community-wide agenda for addressing some of these challenges.

The presentation begins with an overview of safety and children with ASD.  We will review some of the general risks faced by all children in our society and then look at the special risks faced by children with ASD.  Here we will examine some of the data showing the elevated risks especially in the areas of drowning and elopement -wandering among others. We will examine some of the most problematic situations faced by parents including water-related risks, safely transporting a child, and risks from falls, burns, and poisons.  In addition we will share some general strategies that parents can use for any safety challenges they may face with their child.

Next, we will consider how parents might interact with law enforcement and first responders if an emergency should occur with their child with ASD.  We will look at some of the patterns of bad interactions and then consider proactive steps that parents can take to achieve good outcomes.  Sharing information about your child’s special needs ahead of time with law enforcement and fire personnel are among the recommended strategies. In addition, we will suggest what quality training for law enforcement personnel will look like and discuss some exemplary efforts by law enforcement to meet the special needs of persons with autism. 

Then we will consider parent perspectives on safety for their children.  We will look at survey and other data that provide insight into what specific situations and dangers parents view as the most critical for their children.  An important topic here is the issue of elopement and wandering and what parents can do to deal with these risks. Parents seem to be aware of the risks faced by their child in most cases.  Surprising, educational programming and Individual Educational Program (IEPs), according to a number of sources, tend not to reflect the concerns of parents in relation to safety nor the documented risks for children with ASD. Here we will explore a number of ways parents can seek to have their child’s IEP reflect safety in a more significant manner.

Behavioral interventions can play a major role in reducing the risks faced by children with autism.  We will review the findings from a number of behavior studies that have shown positive results in addressing safety challenges for children with ASD. We will consider more generally how a behavior analyst will approach selected high-risk behaviors that a child with ASD might engage in and specifically examine a behavioral approach for dealing with elopement and wandering.

The last part of the presentation will consider the growing evidence that injury and death from unintentional incidents constitutes the number one risk to children with ASD.  We present a call to action as the first step in an effort to mobilize the ASD community to meet these challenges.  Among specific recommendations is better collection of ASD injury and mortality data by governmental agencies with responsibilities for collecting such data, and active initiatives for child safety. Two major examples are offered. Sweden is the country with the best child safety record. This has occurred as a result of child safety becoming a national priority. While the risk profile for children with ASD is very high, one group of children in America faces the highest risk. Those children are Native Americans. We will highlight the Indian Health Services (HIS) Injury Prevention Program that has achieved significant results in reducing the very high rates of injury and death among American Indian children from unintentional injury.  We will recommend that a number of best practices in the prevention of unintentional injury be strongly advocated for by the ASD community and put into practice in the United States as the most effective way of meeting the safety challenges presented by children with ASD.

Learning Objectives:

  • Participant will know the primary sources of risk to the safety of children with ASD.
  • Participant will know two ways to communicate with law enforcement proactively to bring about better outcomes should their child with ASD have an emergency
  • Participants will know how to have safety issues addressed on their child's Individualized Educational Program (IEP).
  • Participant will know how a behavior analyst will approach a safety challenge presented by a child with ASD
  • Participant will appreciate how they can advocate for getter attention to safety from unintentional injury for children with ASD.

Content Area: Life with Autism


Jack Scott, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Executive Director,
Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD)

Jack Scott is executive director of the Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. This agency provides parents with information on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) safety with an emphasis on preventing elopement and wandering. Jack, an associate professor at FAU also teaches courses on autism and behavior analysis.

Dennis Debbaudt
Owner, Debbaudt Investigative Agency
Autism Risk Management

Dennis Debbaudt is one of the foremost trainers of law enforcement personnel nationally and internationally and a father of a son with ASD. Dennis advocates for strong partnerships between parents and the law enforcement community in an effort to reduce the dangers presented by wandering and elopement.

Kyle Bennett, Ed.D.
Director, Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities
Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD)

Dr. Kyle Bennett is the Director of the Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities. Kyle is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and he has worked with individuals with autism for over 16 years. He specializes in educational programming and the assessment and treatment of problem behaviors.

Toby Honsberger, M.Ed., BCBA
Assistant Principal
Renaissance Learning Center

Toby Honsberger is the Assistant Principal at the Renaissance Learning Center, a charter school for children with ASD in West Palm Beach, Florida. Toby is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and skilled at helping with challenging behaviors and skill development. He is also skilled in fostering child safety.