Learning personal information is one of the most important lessons you can teach your child in case she gets lost or accidentally separated from you.
Because safety is so important, this is probably one of the first things you’ll want to teach her.
This may seem like an easy task, but for children with autism, it can be more of a challenge than you might think. You may have to do some things differently to help her learn this well.
It’s important to make sure she will not only know her personal information in an emergency, but also be able to give this information to people who can help her.
So the first thing you need to know is what to teach her.
This may seem like a no-brainer. Of course, your child needs to know her name, address and phone number.
But I would suggest that she should know her full name. My son has a very long full name, and I made sure I taught him the whole thing.
So if your child’s name is Mary Smith, you might want to teach her the middle name too.
I believe in giving a child what may be a little too much information in case it could really help in an emergency. And learning the name “Mary Ann Smith” probably isn’t much harder than learning “Mary Smith”.
We all know our children need to know their phone number, but these days most people have a home phone number, a work number and a cell number.
You have to decide whether to teach her all your phone numbers or only one.
I was afraid my son would be confused if I taught him more than one number. I chose to teach him my cell number since I always have that phone with me. I wanted him to be able to reach me whether or not I am home.
But if your child can remember more than one phone number, I would teach her all of them. I prefer teaching too much information rather than too little if possible.
I also recommend teaching her her mother’s name and father’s name. If she ever gets lost, it would be extremely helpful if she could recite or write her parents’ names.
You may also consider whether or not you should teach her a sibling’s name. I thought it was important to teach my son his older brother’s name, just in case, since his brother is an adult.
But you should think about your own situation and decide if that’s important enough to teach it to your child.
I would want to teach my child just enough information that I think is necessary without overwhelming him with more to remember than he can handle.
With neurotypical children (children who don’t have a disability), teaching personal information is pretty easy and straightforward. You have her repeat it and write it down until she has memorized it.
You would do the same thing for a child with autism, but with some steps added to make sure she can remember and recite the information.
When I taught this information to my son, I asked the questions in different ways. One day I might say, “What is your name?” The next day I might ask, “What’s your full name?”
When asking about his address I would say, “What is your address?” The next day, I would ask, “Where do you live?”
For a child with autism, it’s vitally important to do this. A neurotypical child will likely know automatically that both questions mean the same thing.
But if you don’t vary your questions, a child with autism may learn to answer “What is your address?” but be completely thrown off by “Where do you live?”
In an emergency, you don’t know how a police officer or other person trying to help might ask these questions. So it pays to prepare your child in this way.
I also recommend teaching your child to say and write the answers to these questions if she can speak and write. It’s also a good idea to teach her to type these answers out as well. This will not only prepare her to answer the questions in a variety of ways, but it will also help her to better learn the information.
You can take this even further by having her write the answers in different ways. Have her write them on paper, on a dry erase board, on a chalkboard, or any other way you can think of.
Why do this? This can help her to generalize the information. Generalizing the information means teaching information in different ways to help ensure children will learn it and apply it to other situations. Children with autism usually need help generalizing things they have learned.
In the images above, note the different ways you can ask your child for her personal information. Vary the order in which the questions are asked, and vary the wording. Change it up in different ways to help her generalize this skill.
Once your child has learned her personal information, have other people ask her the questions. This will help her to further generalize what she has learned. It will also help to ensure that she will be able to answer these questions in an emergency, when a police officer or other stranger will need to know how to help her.
I recommend reviewing this every day or at least most days until she learns it really well.
Once she has mastered this, you can review it once a week or once a month. How often you review it depends on how much practice you think she needs.
But just make sure you do review it once in a while. You don’t want her to forget such important personal information that could save her life.
At the same time, make sure your child understands that she should not share this information with everyone. Try to help her learn that she should only share this with people who need to know it or in case of emergency (which is another lesson in itself).
We can hope and pray that such an emergency will never happen. But as the saying goes, “Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.”
Knowing our children are prepared for such a crisis is vital for our own peace of mind, but most importantly, for their safety.