Fire Drill Social Story for Children with Autism and or Anxiety Disorders
Did you know that fire safety and fire drills in schools have been around since the late 1800’s? A false fire alarm caused a disorganized mass exodus from a New York City school in 1851. There was no fire, but 40 children were tragically killed in the chaos because they were not trained how to evacuate in an emergency. After this tragedy, many teachers took it upon themselves to show their students how to evacuate a building quickly and calmly, but it was not mandated. Finally, in 1901, the Governor of New York signed into law a bill requiring all NY schools to conduct fire drills. Unfortunately, similar laws were slow to spread to other states, so other tragedies ensued, like the Lake View Elementary School fire of 1908 where 172 children and 1 teacher died in Ohio. You can read about the History of School Safety here.
Luckily, fire codes and fire safety laws are commonplace in United States schools. These school fire drill regulations are set by the states. Some states like, Pennsylvania, require one fire drill per month in its schools. Other states specify a certain number of fire drills that need to be conducted randomly during a school year. And California and Utah, have different requirements based on the level of education.
Fire drills are commonplace nowadays in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and even colleges. Most people dutifully follow the process without much thought or consternation, but fire drills can be quite alarming for people with sensory or anxiety issues. One of our kiddos, we will call him Sparky for this post, struggles with fire drills.
We developed this fire drill social story for Sparky upon request from his mother and we were happy to do so.
We hope that this fire drill social story will help Sparky handle fire drills without fear.
When the fire alarms start blaring during a school fire drill, children see it as an excuse to get out of some school work and a chance to talk to their friends, but they are learning the procedures. When children with anxiety and sensory issues hear the blaring sirens and flashing lights, they are not thinking about the break from school or hanging out with friend, because anxiety often sets in. A child who is in a panic will have more difficulty following procedures which can put the child at risk. We wrote this social story and the accompanying tips to help parents and educators prepare children with anxiety and sensory issues cope with fire drills and maybe even survive a real emergency.
The key is pre-planning. Picture social stories are a great tool to use to help prepare your child for any new or difficult experience.
Here are some tips to prepare your child with autism or anxiety issues for fire drills.
PREPARE – Use this picture story to start preparing your child for a fire drill.
We recommend that you read the story daily at the same time of day during the week or so leading up to the event.
Customize the picture story by adding or eliminating elements that are not relevant for your child.
You can watch this YouTube video with your child, so the child will know what a fire drill sounds like.
Watch it with the volume low at first.
Each time you watch it, increase the volume to get them use to the sound.
Plan– Talk to your child’s educators about your child’s issues with fire drills.
Inform your child’s teacher about your child’s sensory issues, so that teacher can be close by when the alarm sounds.
Have the teacher inform classmates about your child’s sensory issues, so that they will be helpful not hurtful.
Have your child bring noise canceling headphones to school.
Let the teacher know that your child has them.
Tell your child that it is OK to put them on whenever there is a fire drill.
If your child decides to wear the headphones, make sure they know that they need to pay close attention to the teacher.
Relax– Plan for the best and keep practicing.
Remind them that fire drills are done to protect them, not scare them.
If you found this Preparing to for Fire Drill social story helpful look at our growing series of social stories which includes, Preparing for a Beach Trip, Preparing to go to a MLB Baseball Game, Preparing for an Airplane Trip and Preparing for a Sport (Bowling).
Pam Drennen MS CCC-SLP is the VP Director of Clinical Services Speech at Kidmunicate. Pam has a Bachelors and Masters degree in Speech Language Pathology from Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Pam provides evaluation and treatment for a variety of speech/language and communication disorders. She has experience working with children with hearing loss, autism, Down Syndrome, a cleft palate, developmental delays, Apraxia of speech, auditory processing disorders, fluency disorders, oral motor/feeding issues as well as children with augmentative/alternative needs.
Pam is a member of the American Speech and Language Hearing Association.