Wandering is common and dangerous tendency in children with autism. Researchers have found that nearly half of children with autism attempt to wander or bolt from a safe, supervised place. Often times these children go missing and end up in life threatening situations. Kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have challenges understanding safety issues and communicating with others. A child might run off from home to play in the pond down the street and be unable to respond to his name or say where he lives. This can happen quickly, even under constant supervision.
There are things parents can do to protect their children with ASD from this very real and scary danger.
Photo from NAA
Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Know wandering triggers. Children with ASD can be impulsive and typically wander or bolt from a safe setting to get to something of interest, such as water, the park, or train tracks—or to get away from a situation they find stressful or frightening, such as one with loud noises, commotion, or bright lights.
Secure your home—regardless of your child's age. Shut and lock doors that lead outside. Consider putting alarms on doors to alert you if a door has been opened.
Work on communication and behavior strategies. Teaching your child strategies to self-calm when stressed and appropriately respond to "no" can make a big difference. Make sure your child's teachers and other family members understand how important it is to keep your child engaged and busy to reduce his or her urge or opportunity to wander.
Set expectations. Before going out in a public place, communicate the plan with your child and other family members—including the timeline and rules to follow. Consider noise-canceling headphones if noise is a trigger, and use the "tag team" approach to make certain your child is always supervised by a trusted adult.
Consider monitoring technology and identification. More than 1/3 of children with ASD who wander are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number. It may be helpful to have things like GPS devices, medical alert tags, and even their name marked in clothing. Project Lifesaver and SafetyNet Tracking or other programs may be available through your local law enforcement agencies.
Rest. Children with ASD may be less hyperactive and less likely to wander during the night if they have a sleep management plan and a regular sleep schedule. Caregivers who get enough sleep are also more vigilant. Many children with ASD may have sleep problems. If your child is having problems going to sleep or staying asleep, talk to your pediatrician for further evaluation and treatment.