This is a post that I have put off writing all month. Why? Because it scares me in the worst way. It needs to be addressed though because wandering is a real problem in the Autism community. It's one of those worst case scenarios that we think can never happen to our family, but it can. In fact, it happens to families of Autistic children on a weekly basis. I know this because I subscribe to a Facebook feed that sends out an alert when an Autistic child or adult is reported missing. A couple weeks ago, I counted 5 individuals who had gone missing in a 48 hour period. Not a week goes by that these alerts do not come across my computer screen. Most of the times there is a happy ending, but occasionally, it does end in tragedy. Most often by drowning.
So what can you do about this?
1. Stop thinking this could never happen to your family. A 2007 online poll conducted by the National Autism Association showed that 92% of participants said that their Autistic child had a tendency to wander.
2. Make sure your home is safe and hard to wander from.
- Install secure dead bolt locks that require a key on both side and put the lock out of reach of younger children
- Install battery powered alarms that will alert you when doors or windows are opened.
- Consider installing an alarm system for your entire home
- Fence in your back yard and make sure that gate stays latched at all times. Install the latch high enough so that young children cannot easily unlock it.
- If you have a pool, make sure it's gated off and that the fencing is tight enough so that a child could not squeeze through. Keep the gate locked when the pool is not in use.
- Place STOP signs on windows and doors as a visual cue for your child.
- Use babygates where appropriate.
- Place a video monitor in your child's room.
4. Teach your child to swim. Many YMCA's offer swimming classes to those with special needs. To find the nearest one to you, please check this link.
5. Have your child wear some sort of identification on a necklace or bracelet. There are companies out there who make different types of GPS locator devices that can be worn on the body. These have saved lives! My friend Lana at Along Came the Bird shares some other ideas on her blog including a shoe tag as well as a safety tattoo.
6. Never let your guard down when out. Especially on vacation. Make sure to double check your accommodations to ensure your child's safety. If my two year old can slip out the front door of our vacation condo, anyone can. Luckily, we noticed the light from the open door and were able to catch him before he got out of sight.
Start implementing your prevention plan today and not tomorrow.
- AWAARE has created a great brochure that you can print out and use as a checklist when making your wandering prevention plan.
- AWAARE- Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education
- Project Lifesaver International - A community program that trains law enforcement about rapid response and communication and also distributes tracking bracelets to individuals who might be prone to wander, including those on the Autism spectrum.
- Autism Safety. org
- Big Red Safety Box- free safety kits to help prevent wandering
- Location Based GPS - reviews and comparisons of different tracking devices most often used by those with Autsim.
- Mason Alert- Mason Allen Medlam Foundation
- IAN Research Report: Elopement and Wandering
here and look at the faces of just a few of the children with Autism who wandered and lost their lives.
If you have more ideas or resources to add to this list, please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org