A large number of deaths and injuries that occur among our society’s youth occur due to traffic-related accidents. For a child with special needs, the risks are significantly increased due to several factors such as:
Lowered danger awareness
Difficulty in filtering background stimuli
Greater levels of impulsivity
Lowered patience levels (e.g. being unable to wait)
Cognitive and learning challenges
Being a responsible and safe pedestrian requires a complex combination of executive functioning skills like making quick judgements and decisions, flexibility, predicting others’ actions, and planning; all of which are difficult skills for children and youths with special needs to acquire. Therefore, it is paramount to begin teaching and inculcating road safety habits from an early age and ensure that they are maintained through consistent practice.
1. Teach your child how to wait
Being able to wait is an important prerequisite skill when teaching road safety. Waiting can and should be taught in various situations from a young age. Some possible situations may include sitting at the restaurant quietly as other family members finish up their meals or even turn-taking at the playground and while playing games. When it comes to traffic safety, it is essential that a child can wait for the traffic light to turn green and for cars to stop at the zebra crossing.
2. Use visuals
Portraying road safety rules visually may be helpful, but only if it is meaningful for the child (e.g. use of photos, symbols, or words). These rules should be presented and gone over frequently, particularly right before the child goes out on a road. Some examples of visuals that parents and caregivers may prepare include:
“Stop” symbol – to present to child when approaching a road to cross
Picture of a child looking left and right before crossing the road
Picture of a child walking between the white lines of the crosswalk area
3. Using social stories and games
Social stories are a source of teaching materials that can provide visual as well as verbal information. It is useful as a tool that may be referred to before an event occurs (e.g. dangers of running across the road). Before heading out for walks, parents and caregivers could go through a social story on why we should not run across the road.
Depending on the child’s abilities, a discussion on the possible problems that could arise, and their solutions can be incorporated. Some examples include if the crosswalk is blocked for maintenance, traffic lights that are not working and if there are emergency vehicles. These are a good way to expose a child to different issues they might face in reality.
Additionally, the use of games can be introduced to supplement social stories. For example, role playing the various scenarios discussed in the social stories. Toys like toy cars, safety signs and car mats could also help to make learning about traffic safety more engaging and fun.
4. Utilize technology to teach
With a wide range of resources readily available at the click of a mouse, it is no surprise that there are an abundance of road safety materials on online platforms. From downloadable songs to videos, games, and activities, these tools cater to different age groups and proficiencies. Utilizing them allows for easy manipulation to create repeated learning opportunities. Furthermore, the use of technology enhances focus and interest for children, improving the retainability of the important skill of road safety.
5. Practice, practice, practice
Before carrying out real life practice on how to cross the street, it is prevalent to start by drilling the basics. Using all the above mentioned (e.g. toys, visuals, videos, social stories etc.), ensure that the child is aware of all the fundamentals. Some important prerequisites would include colour of traffic lights, crosswalk areas and road signs.
Once an understanding of the basics have been demonstrated by the child, parents or caregivers can practice and guide him or her in a controlled environment, such as an intersection with limited traffic. It is recommended that the practice runs are scaffolded to meet the child’s needs.
At the start, practice by holding his or her hand. After a number of successful trial runs, begin to allow the child to walk further distances away independently. It is key to observe their performance at multiple different crossings as well as at various times of the day.
To conclude, it is paramount to seize every opportunity to carry out practice for this important skill. Harness the methods and tools that best fits a child’s learning style and consistently make a point to teach across different settings. Remember to teach a child within his or her ability level and set reasonable goals, but most importantly, ensure that they are learning in a fun and engaged manner!
Written by Junice