Most individuals in society have received minimal training or fire safety education in school or television. When these individuals are posed with a threat most of these people have a brief sensation of fear, but most of the time the basic instinct can take over to try to escape the situation that posed the threat. People rely on basic problem-solving and appropriate actions to evacuate. A child with autism when put in this emergency situation, will not act appropriately in the situation that is why a proper training must be implemented and taught correctly to escape the fire or threat.
Many children with autism do not acquire the essential safety skills without instruction and even then the number of fire departments that conduct fire safety education for children with autism is minimal. The research that has been done in the past has little guidance on how to teach fire safety to children with autism. These types of basic safety skills are very unlikely to be taught or learned solely by traditional learning by spoken word.
This poses a significant concern for parents and caregivers especially for children that have little to no vocal repertoires. Most of research literature teaching methods rely on spoken instruction and have little to no guidance on how to teach safety skills to individuals with autism that have basic vocal capacity. The use of social stories helps individuals with autism gain an accurate understanding of social situations Gray (1995). Social stories usually include few sentences that describe real life events regarding any social situation, reactions of others in that social situation and appropriate ways to social respond to them.
Fire safety studies that were done was commonly on adults, which is extremely concerning counting that the number of annual deaths by fire is high in the United States.
Only a few reports have focused on the use of written or text-based visual cues to teach specific social communication skills to children with autism as they interact with the settings around them. Jones, Kazdin and Hanely (1981) taught children how to respond to house fires in a stimulated situation in home or school settings, but to date there have been little to no studies on effective fire safety through video modeling and social stories. Studies focus that some children with autism have shown particular strengths in visual-perceptual skills and processing and interpreting visual stimuli easier. This goes to show that visual prompts were more effective in teaching children. Children with autism that have little vocal repertoires such as have trouble communicating verbally to others, don’t have a high vocabulary usually have a difficult time properly following solely text or text visual instructions rather than visual picture social stories or modeling videos.
Four children with autism participated ranging from 4-7 years old. Jack, Adam, James and Jen. Jack was 4. Adam was 5. James was 7. Jen was 6. All of the four children were able to follow basic one-to-two-step instructions and had little expressive language. Parents expressed a desire for their children to learn fire safety habits and provided consent. The participants were chosen because of their inability to exit in response to fire drills. No participants demonstrated any type of skills when told, “Show me what you do when you hear a fire alarm.” None of the children exhibited problem behavior besides minimal non-compliance. Each child had minimal vocal communication, but could follow simple commands like “get out of seat” “walk here.”
All of the children could follow simple commands with minimal prompting. There is potential concern over that children having fewer skills in vocal communication might result in slower acquisition in skills. The participants were all from the same school when recruited, but were in different grades. The training for each child was conducted in different settings. The acquisition training was done in different school classrooms for each child. The generalization of the safety skills was conducted at home for all of the children. During the phases of the study there was no other children present beside themselves. This was done to avoid observational learning. One commercial smoke detector was used as a fire alarm that was activated using a button. The same alarm was used in all of the training and generalization settings for each of the children. The alarms were chose at random as to when they were going to be activated.
The DV’s consisted of six safety skills in a task analysis in the particular order through visual social stories and videos. The steps are as followed after the fire alarm goes off. Step 1: Stop work and get out of seat, Step 2: Walk out of the classroom/building, Step 3: Line up outside of classroom with teacher and leave classroom, Step 4: Follow teacher directions to exit building safety, Step 5: Once outside building wait outside in the blacktop/playground away from the fire, Step 6: Wait for further instructions from teacher or firefighters until it is clear. All of these steps must be completed within 5 minutes of the alarm activation. The child was read the social story for 10 minutes each for a total of 3 times. Essentially, the social story is exactly as the steps that are in the task analysis.
After the task analysis, there was a short 10-minute video that was shown to the children that were step-by-step like the task analysis. If the child was to properly follow all of the steps and successfully got out of the building then they would be successful in learning though social stories and videos. The criteria for the training was; after the social story was read, show the kids the video of the modeling of the steps to do during the fire, then ask questions of what to do during a fire alarm and check how many of the children understood the procedure. During this time the children were allowed to ask questions about the video that was being shown to them and the experimenters also asked questions. (e.g Which step is last? Do we leave by ourselves? Or wait for the teacher?)
Observations were counted as agreements when both of the observations scored each vocal and physical response. The observers had a checklist of the task analysis. If the child did the task analysis step correctly there was an O checked for correct and if the child did not complete the task analysis step correctly there was an X for incorrect. The agreement was calculated as dependent measures with agreement plus dependent measures with disagreement and converting the results to a percentage. The children had to get all of the steps from the task analysis correct. For the videos, the observers asked questions related to the task analysis (e.g Which step should you do first? Which step is last? Are we done once we get out of the building?) Once the child answered at least 4 out of the 5 questions correctly that was counted as an agreement through vocal response.
The IV’s are the probe trials, the fire alarm, and the trainings (videos and social stories). Throughout all phases of the study; performance was measured during school twice-daily probe trials. There were no warnings that involved that the fire safety was given before the alarm was activated during the probe trials. The probe trials were conducted before the training to serve as a baseline and to measure the effects of the intervention during the training sessions. The probes began with the ringing of the fire alarm. The fire alarm would ring for 30 seconds. The participants were then given about 10 seconds to initiate the first response associated to the task analysis. Experimenters were not near or visible at the beginning of both training and generalization settings sessions to avoid influenced responses. The training sessions consisted of social stories that followed the 6-step task analysis and a short 10-minute video after the social stories were read.
After the story was read the experimenters asked the children questions about the video to see if the children fully understood what they were watching. The training was successfully done when three tests were scored at 100%. Once they scored 100% the children were ready to start treatment. For the data, there will be three initial baseline points and at least three sets of data before starting with the following child. The videos that were shown were of other children in similar settings that were following the fire safety procedures. The social stories were separated in 6-steps and were shown in the correct order of the steps to exit the building. The step was announced and then the experimenter said, “When you hear a fire alarm, do all of the safety steps quickly.”
The social story was shown to the child and then the video model. If the participant did not respond or did not respond correctly, a correction procedure was implemented. The correction procedure for the steps consisted of prompting using the least intrusive prompt necessary through the task analysis. The prompts were used in the following order: verbal, gesture, and light physical. Every time the child performed correctly the experimenter provided praise for each of the steps. The 6-step training was conducted twice for 10 minutes each. Training was done twice per session daily. A single-case research design was used. The specific experimental design is a multiple baseline design across four subjects that were used to assess learning through social stories and videos. Generalization measures were conducted during the baseline tests during probing, training and follow-ups.
Social stories and videos were effective for teaching fire safety skills to all of the participants. All of the participants scored zero during baseline and during baseline generalization probes. Figure 1 shows the scores for each participant during baseline and intervention conditions and the percentage of fire safety skills that were implemented correctly for all of the participants. The learning acquisition of the exiting took an extra amount of time for children. The teaching procedures used were easy to follow and implement. During the training sessions all of the participants demonstrated 100% of the safety skills for three consecutive sessions. This study demonstrated with the combined used of social stories and videos children can have effective training in fire safety skills to exit a building safely. Jen demonstrated 100 % of the skills correctly by following through the task analysis during the baseline session.
The implications to this study show that through video modeling and visual social stories demonstrated the efficacy of combining both strategies for teaching fire safety. All of the participants maintained their skills during the 6-week follow up training and generalization settings. The training that was done in different environments also helps support the effectiveness of the procedures to generalization. The children demonstrated the newly learned safety skills in other situations and places when a fire alarm was activated in settings that the children were not familiar in. All of the skills the participants confirmed the skills independently when they encountered a situation when a fire alarm went off regardless of the setting the children were in.