The fear a parent feels when a child disappears suddenly is overwhelming. That fear is compounded when the child has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
A recent online survey from the National Autism Association found that 92 percent of responding parents described their child with ASD to be at risk of wandering away from safe supervised environments. Further, nearly 50 percent of children with ASD will at some time wander off from a safe environment, even when there is adult supervision. The incidence increases with the severity of the autism.
Children with ASD often have difficulty recognizing danger; as a result, many may wander off without realizing they are putting themselves at risk. In addition, the intense interests associated with ASD can lead to young children being drawn to seek out objects of special interest, without checking in with a caregiver. Unfortunately, many children experience serious or even fatal outcomes when they are unsupervised. For example, many children with ASD are drawn to water, and accidental drowning accounts for approximately 90 percent of fatal outcomes.
Safety at home
Protecting your child from wandering begins at home. Adult supervision isn’t sufficient. Children often bolt suddenly and unexpectedly and may wander during the night when everyone else is sleeping. To secure your home:
- Install dead bolt locks that require keys from both sides
- Install a home security alarm system
- Place battery operated alarms on doors and windows
- Put door locks above your child’s reach
- Fence your yard
More than one-third of children with ASD who wander are unable to communicate their name, address or phone number. Consider the following steps to help protect your child:
- Order the Big Red Safety Box from the National Autism Association. Place an ID bracelet on your child that includes the ASD diagnosis.
- Use a tracking or GPS device. These can be attached to the child or sewn into the child’s clothing.
- Consider getting a dog and training the dog to locate your child.
- Get to know your neighbors. Explain autism and its effects and enlist their support in keeping an eye out for your child.
- Share information about autism and your child’s diagnosis with first responders and other caregivers before an incident occurs.
- Check to see if your community has established programs for locating children with disabilities. If so, register your child.
- Familiarize your child with community safety officers, such as police officers or firefighters, so your child is familiar with and less likely to be afraid of those in helping roles.
- Talk to your child’s doctor and other medical care providers to learn more about what you can do to protect your child.
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