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This is our experience using a child safety harness for our daughter with limited safety awareness due to autism and developmental delays.
Disclaimer: Parent tested strategies are based upon personal experiences of those who have tried a particular intervention. It is NOT medical advice, nor a substitute for medical advice. It is neither an endorsement or opposition to any intervention. This is an opinion piece.
Therapeutic tool, or not?
It seems the use of a child safety harness, alternately referred to as a “leash,” has people firmly planted in one camp or the other: they either are for it, or very against it.
Lack of Safety Awareness
I remember being at the park, chasing behind as my toddler ran up to hug a complete stranger. She was 2. She was a kid who would dash away in mere seconds: in parks, crowded areas, parking lots. Her safety awareness was nearly non-existent. I was terrified she’d get lost, or hit by a car. TERRIFIED.
That’s how the adorable doggie backpack/harness came into our lives. We used it for many years. As she got older, we’d reserve it for exceptionally crowded places like amusement parks, but we used that backpack until she was 5 or 6.
Prepare for Insensitive Comments
People will judge. To the woman at the local amusement park who said she would never do that to her child (loud enough for my benefit): good for you. I hope you never live with the fear that he’d run off with a stranger, to an open body of water or through a Target parking lot without a second thought.
For the too-loud-to-be-a-whisper remark that the harness backpack is not a replacement for parental discipline, thank you for your infinite wisdom.
Many parents with a special needs child would agree that our kids don’t always respond to typical disciplinary methods, and when they are toddlers, may not understand them. Just like it’s my job to discipline my kids, it’s also my job to keep them safe.
What I liked about using a child harness
For my child with limited safety awareness, it was good tool that allowed her to explore safely. I found that I was more willing to leave the house and go more places once we began using it. My daughter was never uncomfortable, and she never resisted wearing it. In fact, she would often request to wear it. Here’s a picture taken one month before her 4th birthday, while strawberry picking. I decided that the farm needed to weigh her before and after – not too many of her strawberries made it into the container.
Today: With time, lots of therapy and teaching, our daughter does have much improved safety awareness. She is still too trusting with strangers, however I no longer fear she’ll just run off.