Last week Drew and I spent our mornings attending Safety Town. His older sister had just gone a few years before, so I was very familiar with the program, and I knew what I was getting him into. But I still found myself a bit nervous wondering how Drew would do with participating in the weeklong event. Would he get anything out of it? Would I be able to get him to engage, sit and listen when needed? I was definitely questioning how well he would do but I knew how great the program was for my daughter and I wanted to go ahead and give it a try. So, for those of you unfamiliar with Safety Town, or just curious on how it went bringing a child with autism to the program, here is how it went for us:
What is Safety Town
Safety Town is a program offered to preschool aged kids or kids getting ready to enter kindergarten that goes over many aspects of safety. There are many Safety Town programs offered throughout the state of Ohio, out of convenience for location we signed Drew up for the one offered by the City of Bellefontaine. I am not sure if every county offers a safety town, I know that many do. I also know that some are much better advertised than others. I also am not sure if every Safety Town program is structured exactly the same on content or how they present it, but I can give you a good overview of how Bellefontaine does theirs at least.
Signups and registration
I think some schools auto-enroll kids who have attended Kindergarten screening, ours does not so I was able to sign Drew up online through the joint Bellefontaine district website. The program is free, so you just have to register. They offered a number of weeks throughout the months of June and July, with a morning or an afternoon option. We were able to snag a morning spot which ran from 9am-11am Monday through Friday for the last week in June.
Activities and Schedule
The program is set up like a little classroom with about a dozen kids participating. It is run primarily by a local police officer and parents are welcome to drop off their kids or stay the whole time. I elected to stay of course as I knew Drew would need some support throughout the day. I know that not every parent has the ability to stay each day for the whole session, but I will say it was a great way to help find out exactly what your kids are learning and then continue practicing these lessons at home, so they don’t forget everything. The first couple of days were the hardest to get Drew to focus, as it was more classroom based. They left the more engaging items for the end of the week, probably to help keep all the kids’ interests high.
Day 1 focused on stranger-danger, emergencies requiring you to call 911, the importance of learning your address, and road safety. They talked, watched a couple of videos, and then ended the session in the “safety town” (a little area created to look like a town with a stop light and crosswalks) to practice safely crossing the street.
Day 2 the kids learned about good touch bad touch, which involved them bringing in someone dressed like a giant bear to review these items. They also talked about what to do if you find a gun. The kids watched a video for this and learned a catchy little song to help them not forget. There was a brief discussion about drugs and not touching needles. They refreshed the items from the day before, then the kids talked about playground safety, and they let them play on the playground at the facility. This was by far Drew’s hardest day to get through and to try and keep any type of focus until it was time for the playground, but we powered through.
Day 3 was a brief refresher and then we were off again to the little safety town where the kids split into two groups and half got to go on peddle tractors and drive around while the others continued to practice road and crosswalk safety. Drew really got the pattern down for what you are supposed to do before crossing the road, look left, right, over your shoulder, and then left again, but I caught him saying the phrase quite a few times without actually doing the action of looking. Another big item that we will continue to work on at home.
Day 4 was the most fun and engaging day for all the kiddos as it didn’t involve the classroom at all. It covered fire safety and they spent the whole day at the fire station. This day is super engaging. They have a pretend fire with smoke and the kids practice evacuating. They get to tour the fire trucks and ambulance. They even get to slide down the fire pole and spray the fire hose!
Day 5, the final day does a quick session on bus safety including a short bus ride and then the kids have a brief graduation from Safety Town.
They do a great job of engaging the kids. The police officers and fireman who help run the sessions are awesome and very patient with all the kids. Drew is higher functioning and for the most part did very well. He was able to memorize some of the catchy songs and he participated in most of the activities without too much guidance. He was never one of the kids to get in on the conversations, or the longer in depth talks on each subject, but he did pretty well at not being a distraction for others during these times either. I did catch him zoning out and often not paying much attention when the items were not hands on, but that is kind of what I expected anyway. Drew may not understand all the topics to the level that many of the other kids did, but I am hopeful that he may have absorbed more of the material than it seemed. The information taught in Safety Town is so important for these kids, so every little bit that was able to get through is worth it. For the rest, we will just have to keep practicing.
I am not sure if every kid with autism would benefit from this program as it is set up now. For example, at the same age I am not sure that Damion would have done well with everything. I do however believe that the material is extremely important, you just might have to be creative about how you get your child with autism to know it. Since the program is free, I would always advise giving it a try, worst case scenario, your child doesn’t make it through the whole week. You may also be able to work with the program or your country on accommodations to help your child be able to participate. If none of that works, I would talk with your child’s school and see if maybe there were alternatives to learning this type of material as well. Who knows, maybe they could even partner with the safety town program and find a way to help all the special needs too.