By: Lauren Fernandez, BA

Those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often lack safety awareness skills. Safety awareness skills include but are not limited to the following: safely crossing the street, avoiding situations that may cause harm to oneself or others, “stranger awareness,” fire safety skills, and knowledge of community signs. Safety awareness skills are important throughout all stages of life; from early childhood, to adolescence, to adult life and necessary across all environments (e.g., home, community, school, workplace). Teaching these skills are not only crucial to keeping individuals safe but also giving them the tools to lead a more independent life.

Those diagnosed with autism can be taught safety awareness skills using Behavioral Skills Training (BST), video modeling, a combination of both and/or In-Situ training (Gunby, Carr & LeBlanc, 2010).

Behavioral Skills Training

Behavior Skills training (BST) is a research-based intervention that is comprised of several different teaching components; instruction, modeling, rehearsal, and feedback (Miltenberger, 2004). BST has successfully taught those diagnosed with autism to avoid consuming poisons (Dancho, Thompson, & Rhoades, 2008), how to behave after discovering a firearm (Miltenberger, Flessner, & Gatheridge, 2004) and teaching abduction-prevention skills (Gunby, 2010). These are just a few examples of safety awareness skills that have successfully been taught via BST. Although BST has been found to be a beneficial safety awareness teaching strategy independently, research shows that BST in combination with in-situ training produces greater results (Miltenberger, Flesser, Gatheridge, Johnson, Satterlund, & Egmo, 2004). In-situ training entails pausing the individual in real-time when a skill is not being performed correctly, having the trainer immediately enter and direct the learner in correctly carrying out the safety skill. This is followed with corrective verbal feedback and reinforcement/praise. Below are the four BST steps broken down with an example.

Safety Skill: Crossing the Street Properly

Step 1: Instruction: Provide a description of the skill, including when to do this skill and when not to, and the rationale behind the skill. Give examples and non-examples.

Example: “When properly crossing the street, remember to stop on the curb, look both ways for cars, and then proceed when the road is clear. It is important to stop and look in both directions so you do not get injured.” *Here you can show a video of correct and incorrect ways to cross the street.*

Step 2: Modeling: Physically model the skill you are trying to teach the learner.

Example: Physically model for the learner the correct way to cross the street while emphasizing the steps that were talked about during Step 1. Here it might be helpful to use a task analysis to correctly address each step to crossing the street.

Step 3: Rehearsal: Practice is crucial! Have the learner practice the targeted skill as many times as possible. This can be done by creating opportunities for the skill to be practiced naturally or through role playing. A single- instance of rehearsal may not be beneficial, which is why it is important to continue practicing until the learner displays 100% accuracy in novel settings before transitioning the rehearsal setting out into the real world.

Example: Have the learner role play the appropriate way to cross the street multiple times during a therapy session, with novel individuals (i.e., Mom, Grandma, friend) in the home setting. Set a criteria the learner must meet (i.e., 100% accuracy across 2 different sessions, on 2 different days, with 2 novel individuals) in the home setting first before rehearsing outside.

Step 4: Feedback: Give the learner specific feedback as the skill is being practice in the real-world. This is where in-situ training comes into play.

Example: Have the learner cross the street in the real world. If the learner incorrectly crosses the street the trainer should immediately step in, explain what was incorrect, remind the learner the appropriate procedure while also giving reinforcement to the safety skills displayed correctly. Reinforcement example: “ I love how you remembered to stop at the curb, that was amazing! Next time remember to look both ways before stepping off the curb. Let’s try again.”

If the learner properly displays the appropriate safety awareness skill taught, there is no need to intervene. Let the learner finish out the procedure independently and come into contact with the natural reinforcement of getting to the other side of the street.

Safety awareness skills are so important for all individuals to learn, especially those diagnosed with ASD. There are so many safety concerns that individuals with autism are at a much higher risk of experiencing, but luckily teaching safety awareness skills can promote learner safety. Collaborating with parents, teachers and other individuals in the learner’s life can also be beneficial to ensuring that the safety skills being taught are individualized. There is no one-size-fits-all in safety awareness skills training!


  • Dancho, K. A., Thompson, R. H., & Rhoades, M. M. (2008). Teaching preschool children to avoid poison hazards. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 41, 267–271.
  • Gunby, K. V., Carr, J. E., & Leblanc, L. A. (2010). Teaching abduction-prevention skills to children with autism. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 43(1), 107–112. doi:10.1901/jaba.2010.43-107
  • Miltenberger, R. (2004). Behaviour Modification: principles and procedure (3rd ed.) Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing.
  • Miltenberger, R. G., Flessner, C., Gatheridge, B., Johnson, B., Satterlund, M., & Egemo, K. (2004). Evaluation of behavioral skills training to prevent gun play in children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37(4), 513-516.


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