The Safety Planning Cycle
December 07, 2022
By: Organization for Autism Research
Staying safe requires your child to develop an important set of skills and to apply them to a variety of situations throughout his life. To be successful, he is going to need your support and encouragement. In this guide, we strive to provide general information about safety topics that can help families address their unique concerns. Thus, we created the Safety Planning Cycle as a step-by-step approach that can be used over and over again. Throughout the guide, you will read examples from real families implementing the Safety Planning Cycle. We also provide templates to help you begin applying this approach to your own situations. The key to the Safety Planning Cycle is that it is fluid. You will need to revisit and revise the safety topics as your child gets older and his risks change; each time, you can re-apply the Safety Planning Cycle with the knowledge and skills you’ve already developed. This Safety Planning Cycle is meant to be revisited, re-used, and revised as often as
necessary, as safety needs change over time.
Understanding is the first step to each safety topic. What about the safety topic is important for your child? What does he need? What makes him safe or unsafe in a particular situation? This step helps you think about, break down, and focus on the factors that impact your child’s safety.
What does your child need to practice this safety skill? Which resources, people, or skills does he need to be safe in this situation? What can be done to support him? Preparation is partly about brainstorming needs, and partly about looking for ways to meet those needs. Much of this guide is focused on providing you with ideas and ways to prepare. Actually knowing what you need and what will help can be an overwhelming task. This guide helps break down this process, providing you with resources so that you know where to get more detailed information.
Safety skills require practice. Take your ideas from the previous step and break them down into smaller, more concrete practice skills and action items. Pick one or a few skills to practice at a time, and build them into daily life. Safety can be a big topic, so you may want to focus on the most important, most salient topics for your family right now. For example, if wandering is your child’s primary issue, then start there. Then, when needs change or skills are developing, you can revisit the guide, complete the Safety Planning Cycle again, revise, or practice more.
Sharing takes safety from your home and your family out into the world. Safety is not just an issue for you alone; it is an issue for everyone that could potentially be part of solutions that keep your child safe. When you learn or practice things that work for your child, share them with your school (teachers, administrators, school safety officers, etc.), adult service provider or agency, and community safety personnel (police, firefighters, EMS, local safety director, etc.). Don’t forget to include the family pediatrician or your child’s developmental pediatrician in the discussions when it is appropriate to do so. Safety also involves letting other people know how they can support your child and you. Maybe that means telling your neighbors that your child has autism and a tendency to wander from home. It might entail meetings at school, daycare, or work to discuss safety skills you have found helpful at home. By sharing information, you are expanding your child’s support network and arming others with important knowledge.
Work together with your child on the Safety Planning Cycle. See what works, what doesn’t work, and then revise and update your plan as necessary. Safety needs will always evolve, and your plan will, too. Keep the cycle going, and it will be a useful and fluid tool to help meet your family’s safety needs.
This post was adapted from Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide to Safety. Click here to download or order the guide.