Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stranger Danger

I need advice. How have other parents taught their children with intellectual disabilities about the danger of strangers?

Jessica, my now 17 year old daughter, is extremely social, outgoing and friendly. Those are for the most part very good qualities. However, she has yet to learn how to distinguish when she should be friendly towards someone and when she shouldn’t. Jessica has never met a stranger. Everyone she meets she treats like a long-lost friend – hugging, smiling, holding hands. If an abductor drove up next to her, said her name, and invited her to get in their car, she would do it. There would be no need for puppies, candy or any other item to lure her in. She would get in the stranger’s vehicle merely because the stranger smiled at her.

I’ve tried, and Jessica’s teachers have tried over the years to explain dangerous situations to her. But it’s not working. Now that Jessica is 17 and will be 18 in just a few months, I am really starting to worry. Jessica has expressed the desire to live independently as an adult, and I really want to support her in that decision, but I am very worried. Not only will I worry about her getting in a stranger’s vehicle, if she lives independently I will worry about her letting a stranger into her apartment or entering a stranger’s home herself.

Does anyone have any suggestions for teaching Jessica how to distinguish a safe situation from and unsafe one? For a quick snapshot into Jessica’s level of functioning, she has a moderately significant intellectual disability. She reads at a second grade level but without any real comprehension. She writes at a first grade level, and she does math at a 3rd grade level. She doesn’t handle criticism well, and she does have an explosive temper.

Any and all suggestions would be much appreciated!


Esbee said...

Is there no compromise? An apartment within an assisted living facility or some such? So that she has her own space and makes her own meals, etc, but should she set a toaster on fire, all she has to do is ring a buzzer and someone comes running?

I have no idea if such a place even exists, but if you and her teachers have been trying lo this long and she still can't quite grasp it, it's the best scenario I can come up with.

Good luck with this hard situation.

Anonymous said...

This is a huge concern for us as well. We have tried talking, reading short stories, picture stories, social stories, videos etc. Nothing like that really seemed to help. To this day she will yell at me if I talk to a "stranger" and that stranger could be a clerk at a store. She can not distinguish. She is also very loving and outgoing at times.

I hate to sound negative but it seems that if these skills can't be learned to some degree then the child or adult would need almost constant supervision. M is just 10but I too fear that she may never understand it. She also does not yet understand street safety, asking for help, does not remember her address and sometimes forgets her full name. Ugh.

We keep working on it but it is hard to accept that she may never understand it. We have purchased a medic alert tag that she wears on her shoes with personal info. and a bracelet that she can wear with info. I know that does not solve all the problems but it helps. I am sure there are ways around some of these issues. Reading blogs written by some adults with disabilities is helpful.

Good luck. I sure can relate to this issue, have looked for books or information on it and awlays come up short.

MMC said...

Sorry, I don't have any suggestions but will be really interested in any that you get. The Blue Jay is in a similar situation, I have never been able to teach her the concept of "stranger danger" becaue I can't seem to teach her what a "stranger" is. She may not be quite as vulnerable to this as your Jessica, but she sounds close. The Blue Jay will be 15 soon and it is a worry.

mommy~dearest said...

I struggled with this very topic with Jaysen, and still do. Unless he's "angry", he gets it now. It took me getting upset and being very blunt with him one day, when I explained that he couldn't stay in the car while I ran into the store because "a stranger" might grab him and take him away from me.

I think the "take you away from me" was what hit home, since he's very attached to his mum. It did freak him out a bit, but when it comes to safety, that's not always a bad thing.

It is such a difficult topic. We're always telling our kids "hey, go play with that kid over there (that you don't know). Say 'thank you' to the waitress (that you don't know), Make conversation with my friend I haven't seen in a couple of years (that you don't know)." Ya know? :)

My suggestion would be to talk with Ashley about some of the very real things going on in the news lately. How you explain who is a stranger and who is not, is beyond me though.

You also may want to think about "stranger danger" being a stipulation for independent living. She may be more receptive to it if it's a motivator.

Good luck, and I'd love to know what you decide!

Ashley's Mom said...

Esbee - I know there are group homes and independent apartments (with lots of oversight) for my daughter. I'm not sure there are places like you describe, but there certainly should be!

Marla - I like the idea of the medic alert tag on the shoes. I've never gotten one for Ashley or Jessica because both don't like wearing jewelry. But on their shoes wouldn't bother them at all.

MMC - that concept of 'stranger' just seems too abstract for Jessica to understand. I;ve asked the school if we could do some role play - maybe sending a stranger up to Jess while on a community outing, but they are (understandably) reluctant. I may have to set up something like that myself and see what happens. It just seems like a rough and scary way to teach the concept. But maybe that is what it will take.

Mommy~dearest - I like the 'take you away' line. That might help. And, this is for my oldest daughter not Ashley (who is my youngest). Ashley, because of her deafblindness, is never alone. She always has an aide/sighted guide/family member by her side. It's not as big an issue for her. Jessica really wants the independent living and hopefully I can help her realize that dream. But, realistically, I just don't know....

Thanks, everyone, for the comments. They do help a lot!

Punya said...

My name is Punya. I'm a foster mum to Jesse, 18 complex congenital heart, cerebral palsy, adhd/autistic spectrum, scoliosis/kyphosis and developmentally disabled. and to Ben 14 gifted and talented with mental health issues.
I worked for 38 years with people with intellectual disabilities and many of those years teaching protective education with this agency


There are a number of educational strategies that may help Jessica. I'm not aware of what you and the school have already tried to excuse me if I go over stuff already covered. Jessica needs to learn the social distances and different kinds of relationships.
There is an excellent teaching resource that has been useful in the work I have done to teach children and adults to protect themselves from abuse or being taken advantage of.
The first is the circle concept you will find information about it at this website. http://www.stanfield.com/
Search for circles.Obviously as a parent you will not be able to afford the resources but the school or adult service may have it or be able to buy it. I can talk it through for you if necessary. The stop abuse resource is particularly useful although she needs to understand the circle concept itself to benefit. I encouraged parents to make a photo album of people she can hug/touch and and have clear boundaries of anyone not in the album she should not hug/touch.

The 2nd lot of strategies Jessica needs in understanding of early warning signs. There is a printout on the People 1st website of PIP early warning signs. She will need to understand where in her body she feels unsafe. Using teachable moments parents can help their children understand fear, anger, happiness etc and where it lives in the body and what it looks like.

The next strategy is to teach NO (being assertive), GO (safe places) , Tell (helping hand copy of the website) when she feels unsafe.

Let me know if any of this is useful. I have a large store of information in my head but need more feedback as what to tell you. All the best.