Almost half of all children with autism wander or elope – they run away from their home, school or other safe place. Wandering is particularly dangerous for children with autism because of their poor communication and social
skills as well as low safety awareness.
Because of their difficulties with communication and social skills, children with autism may not respond if their names are called during a search. They may be unable to ask for help if needed. Some children with autism don’t recognize the dangers posed by traffic, bodies of water, abandoned buildings, etc. because of a lack of safety
There are some steps parents can take to try to prevent wandering and minimize the danger if their children do wander.
1. Identify wandering triggers
If your child wanders, keep track of the circumstances leading up to his running away. See if
there is any pattern or trigger you can identify.
2. Set boundaries with visual signs
You can try to teach your child boundaries by putting pictures of stop signs or do not enter signs on doors and windows. You can ask your child’s school to do something similar.
3. Use alarms
At home, you can install an alarm system that covers all doors and windows. If a full alarm system isn’t in your budget, buy individual motion detectors and place them on exits your child has access too. Consider putting bells or wind chimes on doors to alert you when a door is opened.
4. Make safety education a priority for your autistic wanderer
Teach your child about dangers such as traffic and water. Social stories are a great way to do this. OnePlace for Special Needs has free social stories on safety issues. PictoSelector and ConnectAbility are two websites that let you write your own social story. More information and resources for writing social stories is available on PBIS World.
5. Get to know your neighbors, neighborhood and police
Explore your neighborhood to look for potential dangers that you need to teach your children about.
Provide your neighbors with a short information sheet on your child. Include your child’s picture, her
diagnosis and what it means in practical terms, your contact information and how to approach your child. Give this information to your local police and other first responders. L.E.A.N. and Autism Services have free child safety cards you can download and complete.
6. Make an autism wandering response plan
If you think your child has wandered, it is very easy to panic and not think clearly. Therefore, make an autism wandering response plan before it happens. The plan is a list of things you need to do including contacting emergency services, faxing or emailing your child’s photos, getting a search group together, etc. AWAARE has a response plan template to help you make your own emergency plan.
7. Teach your child to swim
Teaching your child to swim could save his life. Many children with autism are attracted to
water and not aware of any potential dangers. Enroll your child in swimming lessons.
8. Consider a tracking device
9. Get identification for your child
Identification helps if your child gets lost or wanders off. Include her name, your contact information, her condition and more information depending on the type of ID you choose. There are: