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Autism and Wandering: Tips To Keep Your Child Safe

For most parents, the safety of their children is paramount. Ensuring the safety of a child with autism can be complex. Children with autism may lack the skill or ability to keep themselves safe. Some children with autism may have minimal awareness of their surroundings or cannot use traditional forms of communication. Imagine such a child sees a dog walking past his house. The child leaves the safety of his yard to follow the dog. This behavior is often referred to as, “autism wandering.” After several blocks, the child becomes confused and disoriented. However, because of his limitations, he can’t get help; even if he knew his address, he couldn’t tell anyone because he cannot communicate effectively. By implementing a few practices, children with autism can be safer and parents can enjoy greater peace of mind.

  1. Avoid Wandering: Create a physical barrier disallowing your child to wander. “Adys Barracks” is a project created by Adys Army (adysarmy.org). This project raises money for families that want to install fences around their homes to keep their child close and safe. One of the best way for a child to stay safe is to stay close to home.
  2. Safety Protocol Drills: Just like fire drills in elementary school, children with autism should practice safety protocol. Discuss with your child ways he will know if he needs help, for example, “If you cannot see mom, dad, or sister, you need help,” or “If you have passed the last house on our street, you need help.” Practice the routine repeatedly until your child is able to initiate the skill on his own. Then practice the routine regularly so your child can use his skills when it really matters.
  3. Communication Tools: If your child with autism lacks expressive language skills, employ other communication tools. Print a card for him to carry in his pocket at all times. Print a picture of your home with the address, a picture of your child’s face and his name, or a picture of your own face and a corresponding phone number. Use of this card should be part of the Safety Protocol Drills.
  4. Community support: Discuss with your neighbors your child’s needs and limitations. Identify where the boundaries are for your child. For example, explain to your neighbor, “He is not to pass the stop sign or cross the street.” Ask your neighbors to call you if they notice your child has wandered.
  5. Identification Jewelry: Whether you choose to use a bracelet, necklace, electronic tracker, or other wearable identification, list your child’s medical and personal information. Jewelry might read, “Jonathan. Autism. Peanut Allergy. (123) 456-7890.” That way, those who help your child will have contact information and be able to best ensure a safe return.

In the event that your child with autism wanders, using these simple suggestions may be the difference between a quick, safe return and a disaster. For additional information about keeping your child safe, please contact us.

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