By Jasmine Shen

Walking to work is a great way to get exercise and learn more about your community. While walking may not always be feasible, we have some tips for teaching your young adult to walk to work, which you can adapt for other places they may need to walk to on a regular basis.

To begin with, it’s best to break the task into steps. In this case, we have a five-step plan that you’ll use to move from one step to the next — but only after your young adult masters each step.

Before we get into the steps, there are a few things that can help with this process:

  • Remind yourself and your young adult that however long it takes to master walking alone, that’s the right amount of time for you. We’re all different and as long as you’re moving forward — no matter how fast or slow — you’re heading in the right direction.
  • Keep an eye out for real-life learning opportunities. If you’re walking together and come across a dog (on or off a leash), go over how to handle different scenarios (especially if they have a specific fear of dogs). If someone asks you for directions, go over what to do if this happens and you’re not with them. Or, if an emergency vehicle goes by, with or without flashing lights and sirens, let them know it’s OK to watch, but never follow them.
  • Consider using a reward system, such as a favorite treat or activity, that can be awarded after each of the five steps, or even after each walk.

1. Planning for Your Safe Walk

First, go over how to plan a walk with your young adult. You can either tell them what time they need to leave, or you can work the timing out together — how long the walk will take, what time they need to arrive, what time they need to leave — so they’re at work on time.

Take-to-Work List

Write a list of everything they’ll need to take with them when they leave the house for work and post it where you’ll all see it as you’re heading out the door. This list might include:

  • Work credentials, name tag, anything their work requires of them
  • Wallet with cash, change, ATM card, etc.
  • Keys
  • Times and time schedule
  • Emergency contacts (more on this below)
  • Seasonal needs: Jacket, coat, umbrella, hat, etc.
  • Walking at night or in high-traffic areas: Flashlight, plus think about reflective clothing or adding a couple of reflectors to their jacket or bag.

They’ll also need a fully charged cell phone, including a name in their contact list that indicates who to call in case of emergency — or ICE. For example, if their primary caregiver is Anne Jones, it would be “ICE-Anne Jones.” The acronym ICE is recognized by EMTs, police officers, firemen, and other emergency responders.

However, it’s not as simple as adding an ICE contact. Because emergency responders can’t unlock someone else’s phone, you’ll need to make sure it’s accessible from their lock screen. See this article for instructions (or search online for ICE instructions plus the type of phone):

How To Set An Emergency Contact on Your Android or iPhone’s Lock Screen

Fortunately, most of today’s smartphones come with a feature that allows you to enter ICE data that’s accessible from your phone’s lock screen, including emergency contacts and important medical information. And even if it doesn’t, there’s an easy way around it. (Huffington Post)

There are also non-tech ways to do this, and you can create your own. A few ideas:

  • Printed paper ICE card in a wallet or purse
  • A sticker/label on a phone
  • A tag on a keychain or attached to a bag
  • An ICE bracelet

Be sure to label the information clearly as “ICE,” and in addition to your primary contact’s information, consider including:

  • Your address
  • Any allergies
  • Any medical conditions
  • Medications you take
  • Blood type

It might take a little time to set all this up initially, but the results (putting you more at ease, your child’s safety) are worth it.

Basic Safety Rules

Next, discuss the basic safety rules, and how to handle different situations. These should be reviewed before each walk practice session:

Always carry a cell phone. We’ve already discussed this, but also think about what should they do if they lose their phone? Or they don’t have cell service? (Good reasons to have ICE info in more than one location?) You might not want to point out specific (scary) what-ifs, but you could say something like, “If you try everything I taught you and you still need help, do this …”

Don’t talk to strangers. Describe what a “stranger” is and how to tell the difference between strangers and friends. Scenarios may include what to do if someone approaches you directly or asks you a question.

Never accept a ride. Scenarios may include what to say — or not say (or do) — if someone offers them a ride in their car. What if they’re someone you both know?

Do not give out personal information. Describe what personal information is. Scenarios should include what to do if it’s a police officer. Who else would be an exception?

Another concern that comes up is interactions with homeless people. Define homelessness and explain that they’re another example of a “stranger,” but without a place to live. Go over how to recognize someone who might be homeless, how to avoid interactions, what to do if they ask for money or food, and what to do (and how to report them) if harassed.

Ped Xing sign

Basic Traffic Laws and Best Practices

In addition to safety rules, there are actual laws and other best practices they need to know as a pedestrian. Discuss and teach how to maneuver sidewalks and streets safely, including how to:

Walk in a neighborhood vs. a business district. This includes the use of sidewalks — when they’re available. Your young adult should always walk on the sidewalk and stay close to buildings in business areas, away from the street. If there are parts of their walk to work without sidewalks, you’ll want to either find an alternate route, or determine whether it’s safe or not to teach them to walk against traffic.

Note: Be sure to check your local pedestrian laws. States and municipalities each have their own pedestrian laws, but most state that pedestrians should walk on the opposite side of the street, facing traffic, if there are no other options, such as sidewalks.

Cross at stop signs. Explain that they need to first look for painted crosswalk marks when crossing any street. Also explain that drivers are supposed to stop for pedestrians — especially at crosswalks and intersections — but sometimes they don’t, or they don’t see you. In all cases, wait for the driver to motion for you to cross. Once they’ve been signaled to cross, look both ways down the street — first left, then right, then left again — and if there are no other cars, only then is it safe to cross.

Cross at intersections with and without traffic lights. It’s important to first teach what each traffic signal means. Traffic light signals can vary from town to town, some may have the flashing “WALK” sign, and others may have an image of a person walking. It’s important to clearly explain what each sign means to the young adult. Also go over different scenarios, such as what to do if the signal changes or flashes when they’re already in the middle of the intersection — they’ll need to quickly hurry and cross the street. Additionally, while crosswalk signs may be helpful, be sure to tell them to always be mindful of oncoming cars — regardless of the lights.

Other rules to focus on depending on your situation include jaywalking, walking between cars, and other situations where driver’s may not see them.

Throughout all the steps, you’ll want to continue teaching and reviewing the safety and traffic rules as you progress through the steps.

2. Walking Together

Here you start walking the actual route they’ll take to work, together. How many walks and how often will depend on your specific situation.

In this step you want to focus on the specific situations they’ll encounter during this walk, including each street crossing, each set of traffic lights, each stop sign. This also includes who they may run into during the walk, and use any situation that arises as a learning opportunity.

3. Fade Out Support

Continue your walks together, but start letting them make more and more of the decisions themselves. Use your judgement on how quickly to progress, and give them as much independence as is safe.

4. Fade More

Here you’ll have them walk part of the walk on their own. For example, when near their destination, you can let them continue on their own, and begin the walk back, where you’ll be waiting for them. Try and observe as much as you can without interacting with them.

5. Independent Walk

The big day will arrive when they can take their first walk all by themselves. Have them call you at each transition: when they leave home, when they arrive at work, when they leave work, and arrive back home. Even if you’re their teacher and live with them at home, make these calls a habit for them.

That’s it! Being able to walk to work will bolster their self-confidence and increase their independence. Follow these five steps for each location they want to travel to. And check out our Adults with Fragile X Syndrome ebook, which includes more information on transportation and employment, plus other adult transitions and daily living help.

Jasmine Shen

Jasmine Shen
Jasmine worked as an intern for the National Fragile X Foundation during the summer of 2021. A student at Johns Hopkins, she is majoring in economics and public health. She loves hiking, baking, and spending time with family.

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