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Years ago, at a board meeting of the California State Council for Developmental Disabilities, I was introduced to an organization that advocates and trains for the safety of those with disabilities and the people who care for them.

I invited this organization, Get S.A.F.E., to provide safety training to First Responders, such as law enforcement, firefighters, doctors, and emergency medical technicians, in my community. This training was extremely beneficial to all community members in attendance as it helped to raise safety awareness for those with developmental disabilities.  Additionally, the training provided tools to help reduce risk of victimization.

Key Safety Tips

Here are some tips that have helped those in my community:

Inform Key Players

Inform the Sheriff’s Department and the Public Health Department of the address for which a person with a disability resides. This helps First Responders know what to expect and what to prepare for in advance of their arrival.   It would also be beneficial to supply your local rescue squad and fire department with the same information.  If you are unsure as to who exactly to contact, reach out to your local police department for advice and additional contacts.

Emergency Information

The person with a disability should keep an emergency contact information card on their person.  This should includes personal information such as blood type, medications, medical conditions, and allergies.

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Raise Safety Awareness

Help raise awareness through educating various First Responders to recognize the special needs of those with developmental and mental disabilities.  Include suggestions on how to treat them including tips for successful communication techniques specific to the individual with developmental disabilities.

This is helpful because individuals with various isms may be mistaken as having another issue.  For example, teenagers or adults on the autism spectrum have been mistaken to be drunk or defiant.

Sometimes it is more challenging to understand the needs of those with invisible disabilities than those with physical disabilities.  Help bring greater understanding.

Familiarize Your Child

When my son who has autism was a teenager, he volunteered regularly for the local police department which helped to build relationships and trust.  Perhaps your child can volunteer with your local police, fire and rescue departments even in a clerical capacity.

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Teach Personal Safety

Individuals with various isms should participate in personal safety and self-defense training for their own personal protection.

Get S.A.F.E recommends the following general safety, self-advocacy and awareness tips:

Increase Awareness

Be aware of your surroundings. Being aware of where you are and who is around who may help you escape in a bad situation. Always have an exit plan in your mind.

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Avoid Isolated Areas

Teach children to avoid isolated areas. It is harder to get help if no one is around. Stay in areas where people are present. Don’t be alone with someone you don’t know or trust.

Be Purposeful

Walk with purpose. Even if you don’t know where you are going, act like you do.

Trust Your Instincts

If a situation or location feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it probably isn’t the best place to be. Leave the location.

Buddies are Best

Use the buddy system. Whenever possible, take someone along. It’s safer and more fun.

Write in Advance

Write down what you want to say in an emergency situation.  It will help you stay on track in a flustered situation.  Write down any main points you wish to communicate.  Keep this with your emergency information.

Communication Tips

Have a discussion with your child and consider role playing various emergency situations.  For those in the community who may encounter a child with various isms in an emergency situation, the following insights are helpful.

Stay on topic so not to confuse the individual.

Use a calm voice and tone. It is not only WHAT you say, but HOW you say it that matters.

Listen to others. Don’t miss an opportunity to hear what others are saying.  Parents, caretakers, teachers have a better understanding of how to best communicate with a child who has various isms.

Make sure others understand you by asking if you made yourself clear. They may need more information or you may need to say it another way.

Have you attended a community safety training program in your community?  Are your first responders trained in working with children with various isms?  If not, consider looking into a safety training program through your county resources.  Let us know about your efforts or community activities on Facebook.