Dangers of roads for children with SEN

Research suggests that people with learning difficulties or disabilities are more at risk of being hurt or killed on roads. A 15-year study in California indicated that the risk of adults with learning difficulties and disabilities being killed while walking was nearly three times greater than among adults without. [1] However, because UK casualty statistics do not record learning disabilities or difficulties among people injured or killed on roads, it is difficult to assess the extent of risks faced by this group, and specifically for children with different types of learning difficulties or disabilities.

However, some of the effects that different learning difficulties and disabilities may have on pupils safety on roads, and possible obstacles to teaching these children about safety, are outlined below. Whether individual pupils experience these problems or not may depend on the severity and nature of their learning difficulty or disability.

NB: the information below is intended only to illustrate additional risks that may be experienced by children with learning difficulties and disabilities using roads. It is not intended as a complete list of symptoms, behaviours and difficulties that may be displayed or experienced by these children.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Children with ADD or ADHD may display any of the following:

  • Hyperactivity, often running around excessively - meaning they may be more likely to: suddenly run out into the road; cycle too fast to control their bike properly; or undo their seatbelts, fidget and distract the driver when in a car.
  • Impulsiveness and tendency to act without thinking  - meaning they may be less likely to wait for a green man or until it?s safe to cross, or to stay in line if a group is being taken off the school premises.
  • Little regard for personal safety  - often acting without fear or without considering the consequences, so may be more likely to run into the road or take chances with approaching traffic.
  • Forgetful and easily distracted in the course of everyday activities - meaning they may be likely to become distracted while crossing the road or cycling, or simply forget to ?stop, look and listen? or apply other safety rules.
  • A tendency to not listen to others or follow instructions - so even if being supervised, they may not listen to, or obey, safety instructions from an adult. [2]

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Children with an ASD may display any of the following:

  • Difficulty thinking and behaving flexibly according to different situations, and a tendency to tie new skills to the circumstances in which they are taught ? meaning these children may not apply safety instructions or rules to every relevant situation. For example, a child taught to use the Green Cross Code when crossing a particular road may not automatically know to apply the code to crossing other roads.
  • Difficulty understanding social contexts - meaning they may not respond to being taught about road safety in the context of what?s ?right and wrong?, or what?s safe or dangerous. They may also find it difficult to apply these concepts to particular situations.
  • Difficulty communicating with and understanding others - so may have difficulties understanding verbal instructions from adults supervising them on roads, and may be unable to communicate any difficulties they are having keeping themselves safe.
  • Over or under-sensitivity to sights and sounds - this may put these children at risk on roads by causing panic in reaction to certain noises or sights (due to over-sensitivity), and/or a lack of awareness of dangers like approaching traffic (due to under-sensitivity).
  • Forgetful and easily distracted in the course of everyday activities - meaning they may be likely to become distracted while crossing the road or cycling, or simply forget to 'stop, look and listen' or apply other safety rules.
  • Strong interests which can cause distractions - for example, a child may have a strong interest in cars, which could cause them to walk into a road without looking to see a car they like.

Dyspraxia (or Developmental Co-ordination Disorder)

Children with dyspraxia may display any of the following:

  • Co-ordination difficulties - meaning they may be at particular risk of stumbling or falling into the road while walking or swerving while cycling.
  • Problems judging distance - this can make it difficult for children to judge how far away approaching traffic is and when it's safe to cross.
  • Inability to tell left from right consistently - meaning they may find it difficult following the instructions of an adult supervisor when using roads, or obeying road markings telling pedestrians to 'look left' or 'look right'.
  • Problems doing two things at once or completing complex tasks - meaning they may have difficulty following instructions for using roads safely that involve several actions, like the Green Cross Code. [3]


Children with dyslexia may display any of the following:

  • Difficulties reading - this may cause problems reading any written instructions or advice on using roads safely, including road signs and markings.
  • Difficulties following a series of instructions in order - so may have difficulties following instructions from an adult supervisor when using roads, or applying a series of actions in order, like the Green Cross Code.
  • Problems with directional words like left/right and up/down - so may find it difficult following the instructions of an adult supervisor when using roads, or obey signs that tell you to 'look left' or 'look right'. [4]

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[1] Strauss D, Shavelle R, Anderson T W and Baumeister A (1998). External causes of death among persons with developmental disability: the effect of residential placement. American Journal of Epidemiology, 147 (9), 855-862.

[2] Symptoms of ADD and ADHD from www.netdoctor.co.uk

[3] Problems associated with dyspraxia from www.rdg.ac.uk, University of Reading

[4] Problems associated with dyslexia from www.rdg.ac.uk, University of Reading, and www.bda-dyslexia.org.uk, British Dyslexia Association

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