Most parents of children with Autism know first-hand that wandering is a common and potentially dangerous issue. For some parents, the fear of wandering has stopped them from enjoying outdoor activities, contributed to social isolation and caused a lack of sleep over concern of a possible break out in the middle of the night.
While researchers have not identified a definitive cause, parents have found a correlation between incidents of wandering and the following possible motivations:
- Trying to find relief from an anxious situation
- An interest in running and exploring
- Attempting to avoid unpleasant sensory stimuli
- Attraction to a favorite place or interest
How to prevent wandering and avoid tragedies
Boost your home security
Make it more difficult for your child to leave your home unnoticed by installing a security system that beeps when the doors or windows are opened. You might also consider installing deadbolt locks that require keys to unlock on the inside and the outside of the doors. Building a fence around your backyard with child-proof locks can also prevent wandering, especially for younger children. Some simpler, more inexpensive tips include attaching stop signs to doors and adding battery operated alarms on doors and windows.
ID bracelets that contain your contact information and your child’s medical needs can help return your child to you more quickly if they are prone to wandering. If your child resists the bracelet, you can also try a necklace or customized lost and found temporary tattoo.
Take advantage of GPS technology
Various tracking systems are on the market to help locate lost children, some of which were designed specifically for kids with autism. Law enforcement and public safety officials are able to connect with other tracking devices to quickly locate your child and provide help if needed. See a list of tracking devices currently on the market here.
Identify and eliminate triggers
What type of wanderer is your child? Is he a sudden runner, a random wanderer, a night wanderer, susceptible to goal motivated wandering, non-goal motivated wandering, etc.? Observing and identifying your child’s wandering behavior will help you determine patterns and eliminate potential triggers.
If your child is a goal directed wanderer, you might allow her to explore objects and places in a safe environment. For example, if your child is attracted to water you might set aside time for water play each day under supervision.
If your child runs as a result of anxiety, you might practice calming methods to help him learn to cope with anxiety before feeling the urge to escape.
What to do when wandering occurs
Preparation can make all the difference! Create a wandering emergency plan with your family that outlines what to do, authorities to notify and details about your child that will aid in the search efforts. Share your emergency plan with caregivers and neighbors. Download a printable emergency plan from the National Autism Association here.
The infographic below outlines just how common wandering is for children with Autism and can be a great resource to share with friends and caregivers to help them understand just how critical this issue is: