Having a child wander off is scary for any parent, but for those with children on the spectrum, it’s even more challenging and potentially a higher risk. What if they can’t communicate how to get home or that they are lost? Will they be startled and hide from first responders? What if they are near water and can’t swim? All of these uncertainties make wandering a scary reality and something that parents need to educate themselves about properly.
Nearly half of children with ASD attempt to elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times higher than unaffected children. So how can you prevent this? The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education Coalition (AWAARE) offers the following six tips to help prevent wandering and wandering-related tragedies:
1. SECURE YOUR HOME
Consider contacting a locksmith or security company to promote safety in your home. Secure dead bolt locks, an alarm system and fencing your yard are some of the ways to secure doors, windows and other exits.
2. Consider a Tracking Device
Check with local law enforcement for Project Lifesaver or LoJack SafetyNet services. Various GPS tracking systems are also available and provide a reliable way to locate loved ones.
3. Consider an ID Bracelet
Medical ID bracelets should include your name, phone number and other important information. It may also state that your child has autism and is non-verbal (if applicable). If your child will not wear a bracelet or a necklace, consider a temporary tattoo with your contact information.
4. Teach Your Child to Swim
Swimming lessons for children with special needs are available. The final lesson should be with clothes and shoes on. If you own a pool, be sure to fence it and if neighbors have pools, alert them of these safety precautions and your child’s tendency to wander. Remove all toys or items of interest from the pool and pool area when not in use.
5. Alert Your Neighbors
It is recommended that parents plan to introduce their ASD child to neighbors or provide a photograph. Knowing your neighbors can help reduce the risks associated with wandering.
6. Alert First Responders
Key information should be provided to first responders before an incident occurs. This may improve response time. Informational handouts should include all pertinent information and parents should carry a copy at all times. In addition to first responders, be sure to circulate the handout to family, neighbors, friends and co-workers.
Planning to travel this summer? Be sure to check out our ASD Parents Guide for Summer Vacation Survival with tips to prevent wandering and reinforce water safety. It’s never too early to begin preparing and taking the necessary precautions for your upcoming family vacation.
Do you have any additional tips or tricks you’ve used to prevent wandering?
Safety Tools You Can Use from AWAARE
Here are some safety tools, products and forms to help you prevent wandering and wandering-related tragedies. And, remember, there is no such thing as being too careful or too prepared!
- Family Wandering Emergency Plan (FWEP) Template
- First Responder Alert Form
- Big Red Safety Tool Kit: A Digital Guide for Caregivers
- Social Stories for Safety
- Autism Safety Resources and Products
- AWAARE: The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education Coalition
For more safety and wandering prevention resources for families and first responders, visit autismspeaks.org/wandering-resources.
Source: Interactive Autism Network Research Report: Elopement and Wandering (2011)
Source: National Autism Association, Lethal Outcomes in ASD Wandering (2012)
This blog post is part of our series on wandering and water safety. We encourage you to share this important information with your friends and family. Please see our related posts by selecting from the options below.