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Identifying safe people

Parents often worry about how their child can find safe support when they are on their own.

Introduction

Parents often worry about how their child can find safe support when they are on their own. It’s important to teach children with intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder how to identify their ‘safe’ people and to help them understand the difference between a ‘safe’ person and a ‘tricky’ person.

You might be more used to the concept of ‘stranger danger’, but we now know that abuse is less likely to come from a stranger and more likely to come from someone you or your child has contact with and knows. This is why it’s important to teach children with intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder to recognise when they feel uncomfortable or have a have a feeling that makes them want to say ‘no’. You can then work with your child to establish solid rules about interacting with others to keep them safe. Instead of stranger danger, you can support your child to recognise ‘tricky people’ and ‘safe people’.

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‘Tricky people’ are people in your child’s life who might ignore rules, make your child feel unsafe or cross established boundaries.

A ‘tricky’ person might:

  • ask your child to keep a secret
  • make your child feel uncomfortable. For example, feeling sick in the tummy or worried without knowing why
  • ignore other adults and only want to talk to your child
  • try to give a lot of gifts or spend a lot of alone time with your child

Your child should always have some ‘safe’ people that they can go to for help. Strangers can often help if there is an issue in a public place like the shops or the park, so it’s important to not be afraid of strangers.

‘Safe’ people might be:

  • parents
  • an older or adult sibling
  • a paid support worker
  • teachers

They can also be:

  • doctors
  • paramedic (ambulance driver)
  • police

‘Safe’ people don’t ask children for help because they go to other adults if they need assistance. For example, situations like moving furniture into another room or looking for a lost dog. This is different to things like household chores or doing school work where a ‘safe’ person is reminding the child of their responsibilities.

To help your child recognise the ‘safe’ people in their life, we recommend writing a list or drawing the people your child identifies as a ‘safe’ person. You can download the “Who are my safe people?” worksheet under resources below.

Here are some rules for children with intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder about ‘tricky people’ (summarised from Safely Ever After Program).

  1. People must ask your permission before touching you in any way. This includes hugs and kisses. Your child does not need to apologise or have a reason for not wanting to hug or kiss someone
  2. Everybody has private body parts that must be covered when you are in public. Check out the pages on Public And Private for more on this
  3. Make sure your child knows their full name along with the full names of their parents/ carers
  4. Your child should never go anywhere with someone they don’t know or take anything from someone they don’t know. Things like ordering takeaway or asking for something at the shops is different because you are requesting help from someone
  5. Your child should always check with their parents/carers before:
    • changing plans without prior notice
    • getting into a car (even if the driver is someone they know)
    • accepting gifts (gifts should never be a secret)
  6. Your child does not have to be polite if they feel scared or uncomfortable
  7. Your child is allowed to say or sign NO to adults and other children
  8. No, Go, Tell: Teach your child to say or sign no, and to then go and tell their safe people
  9. Your child should never be asked to keep a secret. Secrets can make us feel scared and uneasy. If there is information your child must keep to themselves, like a party or a gift for another person, reframe this as a SURPRISE! No adult should ever ask your child to keep a secret.

Remember that safe touch is good! Don’t forget to give your child examples of positive safe touch. For example, high fives with friends or a hug from a safe adult that makes you both feel good.

Conversation Starters

What makes you feel safe? (example: when people listen to what I have to say, when I can have private time to myself)
Can you tell me who you can go to if you feel unsafe? (example: I can go to my teacher and my parents if I feel unsafe)
Tell me something that makes you feel unsafe (example: when people lie, when people yell, being mean to others)

Strategies for you to try

Use the “Who are my safe people?” worksheet to list your child’s safe people

Talk to your child about what makes these people safe and write down ‘safe’ qualities of each person

Use the “Who’s in my orbit?” activity sheet to help your child identify and reinforce their preferred touch with others

If you are using a new support worker or service, make sure you have a meeting or an introduction beforehand so you and your child can get to know this new person and set boundaries early

When you are in a public place with your child, point out certain spaces like the information desk or a particular store. This can act as a meeting point if your child gets lost or separated from you

Support your child to recognise the feeling in their tummy (or any other fear feeling) that makes them feel unsafe. Use the ‘villains’ in their favourite TV shows or movies to identify traits of ‘tricky people’ that they can easily recognise

Teach your child to feel comfortable saying or signing NO!

Keep names, addresses and contact numbers in a safe place that your child can access when out and about. Have a copy in their wallet or their phone/device

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