Personal and Community Safety

This page focuses primarily on the safety threats you might encounter during your everyday life, regardless of where you are at the time. Many of these threats are not limited to a specific context or place, and it is likely you may run into them more than once during your lifetime. Due to the variety inherent in these threats, this section is split into two parts: The first part covers everyday issues and the second part covers more specific ones.

Remember the basics

While it may seem condescending, unnecessary, or ridiculous to be reminded of safety tips as elementary as “look both ways before crossing the street” or “fasten your seat belt when you’re in a car,” the fact is that it only takes one mistake on your part to be seriously injured or killed in an accident that might have been easily prevented with the proper precautions. If you find yourself forgetting to practice basic safety tips such as these, then repeat them to yourself and exercise them as much as you can—over time, they will come to you naturally.

Everyday threats

Travel safety

While you might be capable of finding your way around your neighborhood or other areas you are familiar with, it can be very easy to get lost if you are travelling somewhere new. When travelling to an unfamiliar place, be certain to have a map as well as a way to contact someone you trust if you end up getting lost. Most smartphones on the market come with GPS capability as well as a route planner, which will help you find the fastest or most efficient route to wherever you need to be (and obviously can be used to call someone in case of an emergency). While travelling, you should take the time to get familiar with your surroundings and find some helpful points of reference if you need to use that particular route more than once (e.g., a commute to work).

If you are unable to drive or otherwise are not willing to do so, then you should be aware of alternative methods of travel. Public transport via buses, trains, and subways is often the most efficient, but there are some places (such as rural areas that do not support the infrastructure for public transportation) that may not have them available.

In this case, you should try to contact someone you can trust to act as a driver for you. More recently, ride-sharing services have become prominent as an alternative method of travel, so it may be helpful to sign up for one of these

When traveling by airplane, remember that security officers at airport security checkpoints are not trained on how to interact with individuals with autism. Due to the fear of terrorist attacks, airport security officers also may view some of your behaviors as being suspicious or indicative of criminal intent. In some cases, you may even be held for questioning if you are deemed a possible security threat. While you might be angry at the false accusation, stay calm and cooperate with them. Many of the same tips for interacting with the police (which are discussed later) are relevant to this situation as well, so be sure to use handouts or a card to explain
your condition and prevent any unfortunate misunderstandings. You also should be aware of your rights as a disabled individual under the Department of Transportation’s Air Carrier Access Act. The full list of rights you are entitled to under it can be found here. The most important ones to remember are that an airline may not refuse service to you on account of your autism, nor can it force you to travel with someone or sit in a specific seat without your consent. This law applies both to U.S. airlines and flights that travel to and from the United States by foreign airlines.

Before you travel, be sure to

  • Have a map or a smartphone with a GPS available to you.
  • Be in possession of a cell phone or smartphone to contact someone you trustvin an emergency.
  • Inform others of where you are planning to go before leaving and when you expect to arrive.
  • Bring along anything that you may need (e.g., medications, spare clothing, identification).
  • Know what forms of transportation will be available to you.
  • Research your destination so you know what to expect there.

Medication management

Many individuals with autism use medications to manage and control anxiety, depression, and other unrelated disorders they might have been diagnosed with. Although these medications can be invaluable for managing these disorders, they can pose a danger to your health if used incorrectly. Using a transparent pillbox marked with the individual days of the week is a good way of preventing both the possibility of skipping a dose of your medication by mistake and the threat of taking it twice in one day (and subsequently overdosing). It is not foolproof, though, and it is possible that you might still forget to take your medication. If you suspect that you have missed a dose or cannot remember if you have taken it, then skip it and take a normal dose the next time you are supposed to. As a general rule, failing to take medication is usually less life-threatening than an overdose.

If for whatever reason you believe you may have overdosed, then call your local poison control center (1-800-222-1222) and inform them immediately. They will advise you on what to do and send medical assistance. Remember to do this quickly; the sooner you report it, the more likely you are to survive the overdose.

Situational threats

Dealing with street crime

To avoid detection and arrest, street criminals are skilled at picking out people who appear to be easy victims, and some of your behaviors are likely to draw their attention. Just about any public area or place with pedestrian traffic will give them a chance to look for a potential “mark.” Minimizing the risk of becoming a crime victim is dependent on your ability to blend into the crowd, so to speak. An isolated individual is an easy victim; staying in a crowd will keep you safe as long as you can remain inconspicuous. Consequently, you should dress appropriately for the area you are in, avoid carrying large amounts of cash, and do not appear to be rushed or dawdling—if it can draw attention to you, it will. If you are attacked by someone
and threatened to give up money or valuables, then do so without resistance; they will be likely to resort to violence if you refuse, and losing your belongings is a better outcome than risking your life. After you are in a safe place, call the police immediately afterwards to report the crime, preferably with the aid of a trusted individual who can help you with the interview.

Interacting with police and other first responders

Most law enforcement agencies are still in the initial stages of training their officers how to interact with people on the autism spectrum, let alone recognize them. Combined with the fact that many behaviors that are normal for individuals with autism (e.g., avoiding eye contact, failing to answer questions when asked) often
appear to be signs of noncompliance or guilt from an officer’s perspective, this can lead to stressful and possibly dangerous misunderstandings. To avoid undue suspicion if unexpectedly confronted by a police officer, consider carrying a set of handouts or a card explaining your condition and how it affects you, along with some form of identification and a way for him/her to contact someone you trust.

If you lose the ability to speak while under stress, then you also should wear a medical alert bracelet that alerts them to the fact that you have autism, and that you can provide an information card to them. Under no circumstances should you simply try to pull out the card without requesting permission (ideally verbally, but if you are unable to speak, a sign language card or other communication tool will suffice),
especially if it is in a coat pocket, pants pocket, or glove compartment box. Police are trained to assume that sudden movements are an indication that you are reaching for a weapon and may respond with lethal force. It is just as important to resist the urge to flee from an unexpected encounter; most officers will assume that if you are trying to get away from them, then you must have done something wrong.