Evidence based practices underpin the SoSAFE! Program, which is a set of visual and conceptual tools designed to promote social safety for people with moderate to severe intellectual disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder.
SoSAFE! provides teachers, counsellors and other professionals with simple visual tools to enhance the training of social, socio-sexual and social safety skills. The explicit, rule based format allows the learner to respond to situations, including intimate relationships, without having to make discretionary decisions, in response to their feelings or ‘early warning signs’.
Given their stage of cognitive development, Early Childhood learners of all abilities will find the SoSAFE! Program ideally suited to their needs. It provides an instructional vehicle for inclusive social safety training of all children in their early childhood years.
Vulnerability to abuse
Social safety training is essential for people with moderate to severe intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum disorder because of their vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse. The SoSAFE! program is a set of visual and conceptual tools specifically designed to meet this need.
A standardised and integrated training framework
The SoSAFE! program uses a standardised framework of concepts, symbols and visual lesson materials to teach the type and degree of communicative and physical intimacy appropriate with different groups of people in an individual’s life. The program also teaches strategies for moving into intimate relationships in a safe and measured manner.
Experts agree that effective social safety training is most likely when delivered in the context of a comprehensive sexuality education program: sexuality education requires an understanding of appropriate social relationships and these understandings are usually acquired through thorough social skills training. Social skills training, sexuality education and social safety training are therefore highly interdependent, containing many overlapping concepts. SoSAFE! provides a standardised and integrated framework for these concepts which facilitates consistency of instruction, terminology and materials required for acquisition and maintenance of skills.
Family Planning organisations note that sexual information generally known by community members is not usually openly discussed, therefore not only is there a common reticence to openly discuss matters related to sexuality, sexual terminology is often not used consistently or with confidence.
Feedback from staff, parent or carers shows that the standardised and simplified definitions and teaching scripts in SoSAFE! assist them to confidently and consistently use language, and conduct training, related sexual matters; it allows them to capitalise on ‘teachable moments’ as they arise. Adoption of the program across a whole institution reduces the degree to which staff inadvertently impinge on the rights of the client by including their own values in statements made to the client about sexuality.
Minimum prerequisite / maximum assurance programming
Given the importance of protecting people with an intellectual disability from physical and sexual abuse, it is necessary to provide prevention programs that are readily understood by them. SoSAFE! was designed to be understood by people in the mid to upper range of severe intellectual disability, and should therefore be understood by those with mild to moderate levels of intellectual disability as well. The program requires low levels of prerequisite skills, made possible by simplification of social concepts and reliance on behavioural rather than cognitive training strategies. Consequently, SoSAFE! seeks to assure maximum program outcomes and this is referred to as maximum program assurance.
People with moderate to severe intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder commonly function from an egocentric perspective. Taking account of and capitalizing on this egocentric perspective of the world, the concepts of the SoSAFE! program have been framed, where possible, from a ‘first person perspective’. Definitions tend therefore to use the pronoun “I” rather than “we”, “us” or “you”. Advice is provided on alternative definitions and teaching scripts for people with autism spectrum disorder who have pronominal reversal. The program also accommodates this egocentric perspective by using role-play training strategies based on ‘behavioural rehearsal’ rather than ‘role-reversal’.
Underpinned by evidence based practices
SoSAFE!’s design takes into account empirical evidence about the common communication, social and cognitive characteristics of people with moderate to severe intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder. Also integral to its design is the use of empirically-validated instructional strategies for these populations of clients. These include systematic instruction and the extensive use of Augmentive and Alternative Communication, in the form of visual supports.
SoSAFE! also complies with expert opinion on social safety program design. It is consistent with the following recommendations for school-based programs by the eminent Australian early childhood education and child protection scholar, Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs. She recommends:
- explicit and precise teaching materials
- a tightly structured program
- school level support to teachers
- developmentally appropriate concepts, language and teaching methods
- integration of social safety and personal development programs
- strong and ongoing parental involvement in programs, and
- whole school adoption, implementation and reinforcement of programs.
SoSAFE! also complies with the design recommendations of the 2004 Report by Dr Jennifer Sanderson for the Queensland Crime & Misconduct Commission (see ‘Research and Publications’ section at http://www.cmc.qld.gov.au).
The authors of SoSAFE! recognise and affirm that individuals with intellectual disability are people with sexual feelings, needs and identities, and believe that sexuality should always be seen in the total context of human relationships. They believe that people with intellectual disability have the fundamental right as individuals to have privacy; love and be loved; develop friendships and emotional relationships; learn about sex, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, safe sex and other issues regarding sexuality; exercise their rights and responsibilities in regard to privacy and sexual expression and the rights of others; marry and make informed decisions concerning having children; and develop expressions of sexuality reflective of age, social development, cultural values and social responsibility.