by Sarah Hansen
On September 22, 2015, the Hussman Institute for Autism hosted a full-day workshop for about 50 attendees that taught about the Be Safe: The Movie curriculum. The curriculum is designed to help parents, teachers, and community organizations teach individuals on the autism spectrum (or with various disabilities) how to interact safely with the police.
“We’re trying to build a set of skills and reduce anxiety,” said Emily Iland, the workshop leader and developer of the Be Safe curriculum.
Pathfinders for Autism, the largest Maryland organization focused on autism supports, sponsored the workshop. “We’ve been teaching law enforcement for a long time,” said Shelly Allred, Director of Communications for Pathfinders. “But now we’re finally teaching the other side of the equation. Hopefully this will produce better outcomes all the way around.”
The curriculum centers on the film, “Be Safe: The Movie”, which is broken into seven brief episodes. Each episode models skills such as not running away, following directions immediately, staying calm, and never touching police officers, their equipment, or their canine companions. Video modeling as a teaching tool has plenty of evidence-based support. Iland cited research demonstrating that individuals exposed to video modeling took greater responsibility for their actions and improved their emotional regulation and self-monitoring. After viewing video models, individuals also remembered, generalized, and maintained the new skills they learned. “Sounds like magic to me,” said Iland.
Each episode is accompanied by lessons and activities designed to meet the needs of a wide range of learners. The activities “take you through Bloom’s Taxonomy pretty well,” commented one workshop participant, and target a variety of learning modalities such as visual, auditory, and tactile. Iland emphasized that anyone using the curriculum should pick and choose among the activities to best reach the individuals they support.
Workshop participants tried out some of the activities and left ready to implement the curriculum. “The goal today is to prepare you to put Be Safe into practice,” said Iland, “to empower you with these tools and information.” Teaching the teachers is a critical step, but as Iland pointed out, “the ultimate measure of progress is seeing somebody using these skills.”