If you’re a frequent flyer, you know how tempting it is to zone out when the flight attendants review emergency protocol before takeoff. As they point out the exits and demonstrate how to use an oxygen mask, you’ll likely see many of your fellow passengers distractedly checking their phones or flipping through the in-flight magazine.
Why do flight attendants reiterate the same information when most people don’t pay attention? Because in the event of an emergency, a few simple instructions could save a life, and you never know when you’ll need to apply that information you begrudgingly learned. And that’s why it’s important to teach your child how to respond in a crisis. The short time you spend going over the basics might make all the difference.
Why use social stories for emergency preparedness?
Social stories are brief, illustrated accounts that help children with autism to understand and interpret common social situations. Social stories, or FirstPath Autism’s “Steps to Social Success” spell out norms and expectations and equip individuals with autism to move through life with greater confidence.
Many people learn behavioral norms simply by watching others and mirroring their behavior. For children with autism however, the learning process looks different. There’s a need for specific, repeated modeling of social skills, in part because individuals with autism have visibly different brain structures.
As the 2015 University of Warwick article, Autistic and non-autistic brain differences isolated for the first time, notes, researchers have identified several measurable divergences in the brains of individuals on the spectrum. Individuals with autism have reduced functional connectivity in several brain regions related to social communication and behavior.
That’s one reason why it’s crucial to begin Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy as soon as possible after an autism diagnosis. ABA exercises help learners of all ages to build up essential neurological pathways, but this process happens more readily when children are young and neuroplasticity is high.
Stress and personal safety
Children with lower-functioning autism are prone to increased anxiety and stress, and this means that emergency situations pose greater risks.
The 2015 Disability Scoop article, Autism Severity Tied to Stress Levels, reports that cortisol levels “remain significantly higher throughout the day in children with low-functioning autism as compared to typically-developing kids and those on the high-functioning end of the spectrum.”
Since emergencies are high-stress scenarios, it’s vital to review safety protocols with children on the spectrum ahead of time. In this way, parents can empower children to respond with minimal increased stress when a crisis strikes.
If a building is on fire, immediate action is paramount. There’s no time to pull out note cards or convince a frightened child that the fireman is trustworthy. Split-second decisions are crucial. That’s why it’s so important to review protocol for emergency situations well before they occur.
Such preparation can also help to prevent meltdowns and other behaviors that could endanger an individual’s safety. As we wrote in our blog post Printable social stories and visual schedules for students with autism:
“Reviewing stories about potentially stressful situations can help to prevent a child from engaging in meltdown behavior. Furthermore, averting tantrum behavior can ensure a child’s safety in the event of a real emergency.”
Free printable social story resources
Ready to help ensure that your child stays calm in a crisis? Here are a few of our favorite online resources for printable social stories with a focus on emergency situations:
- Positively Autism’s Health and Safety Freebie section includes social stories for swimming safety, doctor visits, “ouch” cards (to communicate areas of physical pain), and more.
- The Monarch Center for Autism’s extensive collection of free visual supports includes instruction on:
- One Place for Special Needs‘ library features safety social stories about fires, crossing the street, animal safety, and how to handle phone calls from strangers.
- Autism Speaks offers:
- a free customizable social story to prevent wandering
- a comprehensive wandering prevention resource guide
- The National Autism Association’s AWAARE Collaboration site contains a wealth of safety materials designed to prevent wandering-related incidents.
Take a few minutes to download a set of printable social stories and read through them with your child today. By preparing in advance with clear guidance, you’ll increase the likelihood that your child will remain safe in the midst of an emergency.
Want to read more about social stories? Check out these related FirstPath Autism blog posts: