Safety Instructions & Safe and Dangerous

It is important for our children to cooperate and follow our safety instructions, like “Stop!”, “Don’t touch that”, “No”. Other basic instructions that children can learn include: 


  • Responding to their name
  • “Come here”
  • “Get down, please”
  • “Let it go!”
  • “Put it back!” 
  • “Stay here”
  • “Wait here”


This lesson focuses on this Teaching Strategy – teaching children with autism a skill they may not be able to demonstrate yet. 

Prerequisite skills:

  1. Cooperation
  2. Foreshadowing and Finished Box
  3. First Then
  4. Visual Schedule
  5. Ability to Wait
  6. Accept “No”
  7. Basic Instructions


You can refer to our previous series on Cooperation for a refresher, and download the resources here


It is recommended to teach the instructions one at a time: Introduce a new instruction after your child successfully achieves 9 successes out of 10 trials for the current instruction:  

I. When this is achieved, begin practising the current instruction in other parts of the house and outside (generalisation) 

II. Introduce a new instruction and practising it in the learning room 

Safe vs Dangerous

Stage 1-Sorting Images

Sort pictures of items (e.g. kettle), locations (e.g. pool area), or actions (e.g. running out of the house). 


This is to distinguish between what is safe and what is dangerous. You can choose on which one to target first depending on your child’s behavioural tendencies. 



Stage 2-Live Practice

This is where your children are aided through practices in each situation targeted prior with the use of pictures. 



If you have worked on “kettle is dangerous = no touching kettle” through the pictures, stage 2 will require your child to go near the kettle with you. Then using the same pictures as prompts, practice safe behaviour (e.g.: holding their own hands, keeping them down and to themselves) with your child.


This step can then be continuously practised until your child is able to do it without your physical presence. For added safety measures, the same picture can be pasted near the item as a reminder in the event your child is near the item by himself.



  • Your child would need to have basic cooperation, understanding and complying with First-Then instructions in order to successfully learn this skill.


  1. Place the “Safe” and “Dangerous” containers on the table (to emphasise the differences, use green and red papers, “/” and “x” sign)
  2. Communicate the expectations using social story, a video model and First-Then board.
  3. Show the picture to your child and ask, “Safe or dangerous?”
  4. Once the picture is sorted into the correct container, label the item/action (e.g. “Yes, kettle is dangerous. Hands away from kettle.”
  5. Reward your child after completing the trials. 


You can also rotate the pictures to maximise understanding. The same steps apply for live practises. It is recommended that for this stage of skill progression, practices are done in the natural environment, away from the table. 


Remember to incorporate the 3 key ABA strategies:

  1. Break skills down
  2. Pair learning with reinforcement
  3. Provide sufficient practice 

Your Turn

Download a copy of our Safety Instructions list.


Identify the instructions that your child will need to learn. 


Begin teaching this skill immediately.


Then, download a list of safe and dangerous items here .


Identify one main skill that is most important for your child to learn.

Begin teaching this as well.