Can a Child with Autism Learn to Cross the Street?

Today, I’m going to talk about whether it’s possible to teach a child with autism to cross the street.

I fell into the autism world in 1999 when my firstborn son Lucas was diagnosed with autism one day before he turned three. As you may know, I have created and run three online courses for parents and professionals, including my original course which was first created in 2015 which helps early learners, VB-MAPP level 1 learners, a second course for intermediate learners and those would be kids functioning within a VB-MAPP level 2 and 3 and my newest course for toddlers and preschoolers with new diagnosis of autism or just showing signs.

I did a recent video blog on the VB-MAPP and explained the levels there. But let me quickly go over the levels of the VB-MAPP. If your child or client is functioning within level 1 of the VB-MAPP, that would be equivalent to functioning at 0 to 18 months of typical development. If they are functioning at level 2, it would be 18 months to 30 months and level 3 would be 30 months to 48 months. Basically if you are functioning within the VB-MAPP at all, you’re functioning similarly to a four year old or younger child.

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In one of my Facebook groups for my courses, I had a question: How can a behavior analyst teach a child to cross the street? When we inquired what level of the VB-MAPP this child was functioning at, she said, “Level three.” My answer to her was any child that’s functioning within the VB-MAPP either at level 1, 2, or 3 cannot be taught to cross the street. They only have the language ability and the decision-making ability of a four-year-old or younger child.

If you Google “when can kids learn to cross the street,” it’s recommended that kids be at least 10 years old to safely cross a street. Of course. this depends on how busy the street is and the maturity and decision making abilities of the 10 year old. It may need to be even older.

The point is, that if a child is functioning within a language ability of a three or four-year-old child or even functioning as a seven or eight-year-old level, no matter how old they are chronologically, it is not safe and appropriate to teach them to cross the street and to do this on their own at any point if they’re still functioning at that level.

However, we can, even with young children who are functioning very much like toddlers, certainly try to teach them general safety awareness, especially to stop at streets, to be aware of cars and parking lots, to not dart off, to hold the adult’s hand if the child is young and to walk with the adult if the child is a little bit older.

But, in general, you have to stay close. You have to be responsible because not only do they not have the decision-making abilities to cross the street, they may be impulsive and dart out and get hit by a car. We need to not focus on teaching them skills to cross the street alone. We need to teach them safety skills so that they don’t get hurt by cars in their environment with us or another adult.

Teaching general safety around cars is a good idea no matter what the age or language ability of the child. But, if you are setting a goal to teach crossing the street independently, the child should be functioning at least with the language ability of a 10 year old.

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Ready to learn more and turn things around for your child or client with autism? Sign up for my free 3-step guide!
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