In this blog, Nayantara, a Speech Language Pathologist at Avaz, shares valuable insights and practical strategies to empower AAC users in understanding and communicating about personal safety. Additionally, we have a customized downloadable communication board specifically designed to encourage discussions and learning about safety.
Importance of Personal Safety
Ensuring the safety and well-being of individuals with complex communication needs is of great importance. Personal safety education ensures that AAC users are aware of their own body. It also equips them to safeguard their body from untoward situations.
As caregivers, educators, and advocates, it’s our responsibility to equip AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) users with the tools and knowledge they need to navigate various situations safely.
The 3 Steps of Personal Safety
Personal safety begins with understanding our body. This is followed by internalizing ideas of body autonomy, boundaries and consent. These concepts need to be taught in a simple, friendly and age appropriate manner.
When we teach safety we can do it in steps: Prepare, Practice, Update
(derived from the 5-step Safety Planning Cycle)
Prepare – Plan how you might teach the concept. Some examples of resources can be social stories, YouTube videos, storybooks, role-playing, etc. Choose a method of teaching based on what your AAC user will like.
Practice – Now it’s time to go out in the real world and practice. Practice until the AAC user can do the steps independently, without any prompting. Remember to change the contexts and the people involved in the scenarios so that generalization happens. E.g. Body safety is important at home but also when we are in the community, so we need to explicitly teach the safety rules for when we are in the community as well.
Update – We all forget! Teaching and practicing is not enough, you need to review your teaching after a while and see if it needs to be updated. E.g. As our AAC users age, we might need to update our safety rules based on changing bodies.
So, now we know HOW to teach, but WHAT do we teach about body safety?
Important Concepts in Personal Safety
Here is a list of some concepts you can cover while teaching personal safety. While doing so, do remember to Prepare, Practice, and Update the same with the learner.
- Identifying All Body Parts
- Who Can See Private Parts
- Touch and Related Concepts
- Who to Tell
Identifying All Body Parts
Knowing how to identify one’s own body parts is the most basic and important concept. It lays the foundation for a strong sense of personal safety. Here are some ways of teaching this:
- Teach the names of all body parts, including private parts, and help them locate them on their body. Use the ‘real names’ of private parts e.g. penis, vulva, breasts etc while teaching. If your AAC system does not have these words, you can add these words to the ‘Body’ folder.
- Other vocabularies to be taught are: ‘private’, ‘public’, and ‘naked’. The meanings of these words can be taught using descriptive teaching strategies. E.g. naked means ‘ NO CLOTHES ON BODY’
- While teaching about the body, create a positive mindset by teaching that our ‘bodies are good’ and that they ‘need to be taken care of’.
- Finally, because private parts are ‘private’, teach them that we keep them covered using our ‘undergarments’ and of course, clothes on top. It would help them reason, WHY we wear clothes/undergarments.
Who Can See Private Parts
Who can see our private parts is something that we will need to address and teach. It can be done in an age appropriate manner, in a simple and direct fashion. Some ways you can do this are detailed below:
- You can make a list with your AAC user to identify ‘who can’ vs. ‘who is not allowed to’ see private parts. Make it fun by doing a quiz, giving them names of people in their lives, and checking if they can fit it into the right list. For example, you could teach that other than a trusted adult/caregiver, a doctor may also need to see private parts during a check-up.
|Who can see private parts?||Who is not allowed?|
|– Everyone else|
- You can also teach which are ‘private places’ and ‘public places’ using a similar activity:
|Public places: I cannot take off my clothes||Private places: I can take off my clothes|
|– School |
– Training Centre
|– Home bathroom |
– My bedroom with door closed
Touch & Related Concepts
Touch is a topic that can be confusing to children. Reiterating touch related concepts on a regular basis can be very helpful. Here are some ways of teaching AAC users about touch:
- Some ideas for concepts to teach in relation to touching are: ‘touch’, ‘safe’, ‘unsafe’, ‘comfortable’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘I like that’, ‘I don’t like that’, ‘ok’, ‘not ok’. E.g. a ‘safe’ touch can be holding hands with a friend, whereas an ‘unsafe’ touch can be when someone touches your private parts.
- Touching needs to be taught in 3 different perspectives: touching yourself, touching others, and others touching you.
- You can teach ‘rules’ about touching so that the AAC user can learn what is ‘ok’ and what is ‘not ok’. Help them discuss how touching can make them ‘feel’ so they can understand why it may be ‘not ok’. For example, if a touch causes pain, then that touch is not okay. Create a set of rules for touching and teach them repeatedly for better understanding.
- Finally, you should teach what to do when ‘uncomfortable’ touching happens. The ‘NO-RUN-TELL’ rule can be used. The first step is to say ‘NO’, leave the room and RUN away and then, go TELL a trusted adult, until they help.
Who To Tell
- AAC users must understand that ‘unsafe situations’ should never be kept secret and should always be told to a trusted adult.
- Identify the trusted adults in your AAC user’s life, add their names to the AAC system, and teach them how to find and call out these names.
- Trusted adults can be family or friends but could also be people in the community, e.g. Police. You can add vocabulary that the AAC user may need to talk about and role-play the conversation. Some questions or comments that can be practiced are:
Comments: SOMETHING WRONG, SOMETHING HAPPENED, I FEEL UNSAFE, I NEED HELP
Questions: WHAT IS YOUR FULL NAME? WHO CAN I CALL? WHAT HAPPENED? DO YOU NEED EMERGENCY CARE? (Police, Hospital)
- You can keep a folder in the AAC system with personal details to help in these scenarios.
Personal details: full names of AAC user and caregiver, contact numbers, home address, diagnosis/medical condition, etc.
This is only a brief summary of teaching body safety. There are many resources available online to teach these concepts, but you can always use the help of a medical or health professional to do so.
it’s important to remember that AAC users, like anyone else, might face unexpected challenges. By providing them with the means to express themselves in these situations, we can make their journey through life safer and easier.
Nayantara Nambiar, MSP, BASLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Trained in India and Australia, I am passionate about supporting people with communication and swallowing difficulties. Equipped with experience in Rehabilitation, School and Early Intervention settings, I strive to provide a holistic intervention approach tailor-made for my clients and their families.