How to Teach Individuals With Developmental Disabilities About Stranger Danger

A boy with down syndrome is using a tablet.
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Stranger danger is a lesson essential for all children to stay safe. Basic concepts, such as saying “no” and running for help, are critical in potentially dangerous situations. However, these concepts can be challenging for anyone with developmental disabilities to grasp at first. According to the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, adults with this type of disability are more than twice as likely to get into such dangerous situations compared to adults without disabilities. Role playing, books and videos -- and enlisting the help of other loved ones -- all can help you reinforce safety lessons.

1 Role Play Stranger Scenarios

Many people with developmental disabilities respond best to situations when they have already experienced them. In such cases, role-playing can be extremely helpful in teaching stranger danger skills to children and adults. Set up a pretend situation, such as being approached in a park or on the road. Encourage your loved one to say “no” and move away. Then ask what happened, so she knows why those actions are necessary. Role play incorrect responses to teach differences between the right and wrong way to respond to a stranger. Role playing can take a few times to stick, so don’t give up.

2 Research Helpful Books

Having a conversation about stranger danger is tough, so you may find it helpful to look for other ways to teach developmentally delayed loved ones about the subject. According to clinical psychologist Elizabeth Matheis, books are the easiest way to start conversations about stranger danger -- especially in developmentally delayed children. Head to the library and ask for assistance in finding books at your loved one's reading level. Read together, ask questions and let your loved one ask questions about the books.

3 Check Out Helpful Videos

Role playing and books are effective modes of stranger danger education. When it comes to developmental disabilities, however, it can also help to have more visual tools such as videos. You may also find videos more helpful if your loved one can’t focus on reading books together. Still, the basic rules remain the same: Look for educational selections geared toward the appropriate age group.

4 Ask for Help

Education and communication are both keys to helping your loved one learn about stranger danger. Still, you can’t control the amount of receptiveness -- in some cases, not all individuals with developmental disabilities will fully comprehend the dangers that some strangers pose. Enlist neighbors, friends and relatives in helping to look out for your loved one. They can call the police if something seems suspicious, or even take him to a safe place if you’re not around. Awareness is the key to stranger danger -- this can sometimes mean that all the people in your loved one’s life should be aware, too.

Kristeen Cherney began writing healthy lifestyle and education articles in 2008. Since then, her work has appeared in various online publications, including, and Cherney holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Florida Gulf Coast University and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in English.