Wandering is a common problem with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASDs. Sadly, many parents of ASD children aren’t told about this tendency, despite 49% of ASD children engaging in wandering behavior.
Read on for more about wandering, and signs you can see to prevent it.
What is Wandering?
Wandering is the tendency for someone to leave the safety of a responsible person’s care or a safe area. This is common with many toddlers, and only lasts a short time. With ASD children it may persist or re-appear as they get old. Wandering is also known as elopement, bolting, fleeing, or running.
Autistic children can often be drawn to dangerous areas like highways or water. Water is an especially common danger, and accidental drowning account for approximately 90% of lethal outcomes.
The risks of wandering are simply too great, and parents should do their best to plan for it.
Things to Look For
- Obsession with a location: Autistic children will often become focus on something or some place, and try to get there. That desire can lead to them wandering away to try to get to that place.
- Wandering off the instant your attention is elsewhere: This is normal with toddlers and small children, but with ASD children this can become magnified.
- Sliding away when there are large groups: More people, in theory, means more eyes to watch your children. But the reality often is, more people, more conversation and distraction, which can actually make it easier for your child to slip away.
- Noticeable tendency to ignore you and walk or run away: ASD children are known for not always responding to their name, but keep an eye on the extent of it. This is something that should be communicated to caregivers, school teachers, and friends. If they aren’t paying attention they may think a simple call of their name will stop them from leaving. By the time the caregiver notices, it could be too late.
What You Can Do
- Secure your home: Consider getting an alarm system, securing doors with locks above your child’s eye level, or deadbolts that require keys on both sides. When sleeping, consider getting a bed that will help keep your child safe and secure at night.
- Inform your neighbors and local first responders: Once your child leaves your home or safe area, the most likely people to see them will be neighbors and if they see an unattended child they will call first responders. Let them know to keep an eye out and immediately tell you the second they see your child wandering around, or to help bring them back. Exchange phone numbers with your neighbors as well, for easy communication.
- Consider tracking or ID devices: IDs will have the child’s name, address, and phone number, while tracking devices will allow you to always know where they are. In case your child does wander, these will both help to find them.
We know your child’s safety is the most important thing to you. Taking these precautions early, even before your child begins walking, will provide you peace of mind and security for your loved one.