Children on the autism spectrum are often very curious by nature. They tend to follow those curiosities wherever they may roam. This is why most children with autism will wander off given a chance. Konner is one of those children, and a recent Facebook post by the National Autism Association has given me inspiration for this week’s column.
The post was a toolkit to help families with children who run. "Be REDy: to Prevent Wandering" is the name of kit the organization released in the fall of 2012. It has some great tips and information for parents to help keep your child from roaming, and also to help in case a disappearance happens.
One of the first things the kit does is to define wandering. Also known as elopement, it can include bolting and running as well. When Konner was little he was a runner. Anytime we went anywhere I made sure that I or my wife had a good grip on his arm or hand.
Although I hate to discuss it, we need to make sure it is known that one of the leading causes of death for children on the spectrum, especially when wandering, is drowning. This is because they are attracted to water; whether that’s a swimming pool, pond, or lake.
They also discuss wandering types. This includes goal wanderers who have a target or intention. Unfortunately they are most likely headed to something dangerous like water, train tracks, or something that has grabbed their attention.
The next mentioned is the bolting/fleeing child. This is someone who impulsively takes off running. Usually they are trying to get away from a bad situation. This can include over stimulation, nervousness, anxiety, etc.
They also discuss other/nighttime wanderers. These are children who usually are disoriented, bored, confused, or just lost.
Once you have figured out which wanderer you have you can better work to find the child.
They have a checklist to help keep your child safe. I’m only going to share a few of these, but I will give the website at the end so you will have the whole toolkit.
The obvious one on the list is, "Have I secured my home?" This may seem like a no-brainer, but you have to remember that some children, like mine, are escape artists. You must think like them and try to find every possible route out of your home. If you miss it they will find it.
One thing that is very important that is included in the kit is a social story. You can read the story to your children to help them understand, this, and to help them know what could happen if they do.
Swimming lessons are an idea throughout the kit. This can help in case the child does stray to a water area. Konner has been in the pool since he was a baby. This doesn’t mean that he can’t drown, but at least he has a fighting chance.
Make sure that your neighbors are aware of your child’s habit. Let them know how to contact you, and how to approach your child if they should wander around their house.
You can make a tag or ID that you can attach to the child’s shoes or clothing. This will contain contact information, a diagnosis, and any other important data you feel someone should know.
You should address wandering at school. I was in Kruz’s classroom recently for a party and there were alarms going off every time someone would walk in the door. A parent asked the teacher if that was annoying and she said that she has gotten used to it. I had to speak up and explain that my child was the reason they were put into place. When Konner was younger we had to ask that they put these on the exits. We also had the school reinforce the gates on the playground area to make sure they would latch.
The kit includes stop signs. I had never thought of this before, but you can cut these out and attach them to your doors. I’m not sure if this will work, but it certainly can’t hurt to give them a big sign that screams STOP! Especially since most children on the spectrum are visual.
They also mention temporary tattoos which can be used if you go out somewhere; i.e. a theme park, a park, a family gathering, the grocery store, etc. These are not only a practical way of being an identifier in these situations, the kids will think they are cool.
There are also forms to fill out with information about the child for emergency personnel, and wandering history. These are great ways to understand the child and where they may have strayed.
The site for the toolkit is: http://nationalautismassociation.org/docs/BigRedSafetyToolkit.pdf