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Stranger Danger…. It’s not just Elementary, dear Watson!

Over a year ago, Kathlynn Shepard was on her way home from school when she was abducted and murdered.  This was akathlynn shephard stark reminder that Stranger Danger is NOT just a topic to be taught in elementary school and then checked off the list as “done.”  And just last week, there was another account of a young adult posing as a movie star to entice young girl teens, but this one had a happy ending with the teen getting away alive.

So, how do we help students (with or without special needs) grasp the concept that not everyone has positive intentions?  As we work to help students transition to greater independence, this  topic cannot be ignored.  The one thing this has definitely pointed out is the need to continually remind, review, and reteach these fundamental skills.  This does not require a standardized curriculum…. it requires occasional conversations.  I came across the blog post below that helped re-frame this concept:  the term “Stranger Danger” may not be the most appropriate.  Read Sharon Fuentes post to see this from a mother’s point of view, and then start thinking about how you can reinforce these concepts with your children/students no matter how old they are!


Stranger Danger and Special Needs Children

By   Sharon Fuentes

Like many moms out there, I would put my kids in a plastic bubble and protect them from all harm if I could. I know that as much as I would like to do that, well it is just not the right thing to do. So instead, I do everything I can to teach my kids how to be safe. But what if one of those kids has some special needs?  How do I teach my child with autism to trust “THE UH-OH FEELING” and go with their instincts when they have no idea what that means? How do we explain to them to not talk to strangers, and then encourage them to make eye contact, to talk to and even go off alone with a new therapist or teacher? That plastic bubble is looking pretty good right now isn’t it?

“Everyone is a Stranger at First!”
My boy is 11 and I thought that by now all the years and years of us reading social stories and role playing would have sunken in. I thought he would have understood the concept of Stranger Danger; I was wrong! The other day I watched my boy approach a strange man in a park sitting on a bench who had called him over. The minute it took me to race across the field was pure hell. When I reached my boy and dragged him away loudly stating so the man would hear that “WE DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS” there were tears in my eyes. I thought it could not get any worse, until my boy looked at me confused and very innocently said, “But mommy, he told me his name. He is not a stranger anymore. How will I ever meet any new friends if I do not talk to strangers? Everyone is a stranger at first!” I knew then that I needed to figure out a different way to make my boy comprehend this concept. I also knew that once I did, I needed to share it with you.

How to Teach about Strangers
Below is what I came up with after much research and after many conversations with both my children. It is not perfect, it is not a one size fits all solution to the problem, but it is a start. Read it and then please… TALK TO YOUR KIDS!

  • What is a Stranger? I realized that my son needed a more defined idea of what a stranger is. Pattie Fitzgerald from Safely Ever After suggests that we replace the word “STRANGER” with “TRICKY PERSON”. She goes further as to say that we need to remind our kids that: “ IT’S NOT WHAT SOMEONE LOOKS LIKE, IT’S WHAT THEY SAY OR WANT TO DO WITH A CHILD THAT MAKES THEM UNSAFE OR ‘TRICKY’.”
  • Safe Strangers, Safe Buildings. Since many of our kids are rule followers, we can use that to our benefit. However, we need to be careful how we do it. Telling them, “We never talk to strangers” could actually be dangerous. What if they get lost, or someone IS trying to hurt them? Some safety experts point out teaching children that a police officer is the only person they can reach out to for help is not a good idea as one may not be around when a child is lost or needs help.  Instead children should be taught that if they are lost, they should find a store and ask a clerk behind the cash register or someone in charge for help, or ask a mother with children.
  • The Never, Never Rule. There is one rule that we CAN and should install that can help keep our kids safe. Fitzgerald calls it the NEVER NEVER RULE.

“Never: accept candy or treats, enter someone’s home, go for a walk, or get in a car with someone unless you have your parent’s permission FIRST.”

I have my own Never Rule too. I will NEVER EVER just assume that my kids get it. I will continue to revisit the idea of “TRICKY PEOPLE” often. I hope you will too.



Secondary Transition Summer Institute 2014

The Prairie Lakes Transition Department is in Ames at the 2014 Secondary Transition Summer Institute and I just wanted to take a few moments to share some of the highlights from today!  The themes for this year’s institute are:

  • Early planning and experiences to focus student career preferences
  • Early and ongoing collaboration between students, family, school, VR, and other work supports
  • Paid work experiences for students
  • Support and follow-up needed to stabilize employment

Our keynote speaker this afternoon was Stephan Smith, Executive Director of AHEAD-an agency that advocates for the total inclusion of people with disabilities in education and the workplace.  One of the quotes that I took from Mr. Smith’s keynote was a “new” description of what a disability is.  He noted that a disability is ” The result of an interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder a person’s full and effective participation on an equal basis with others”.  This really made me think…..what barriers are we putting up that actually create further disabilities or increase the severity of the disability?  I think that there are many.  What can we do as individuals, as educators, as families, and communities to make the sure barriers are not up for anyone?  He also shared another quote that really hit home with me…..he said “If a round hole is big enough it can fit many different sizes of square pegs.”  How many times have we all heard “you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole”-many times I bet!  What Mr. Smith was encouraging us to think about is the possibility of making the round hole fit many different shapes and sizes by lifting its barriers and making it bigger and better.  Could we do that with schools and educational programs?  Could we re-think the ways we do things, change practices, and create new educational  experiences so our students could experience more success?  Can we make the round hole of education big enough  that all students fit in?  Can the circle of support be there for everyone no matter what your personal history is?    How can we support a change in education…a change where no one will be thought of as the “square peg”, and a place where all students fit into the educational circle?