For parents and other caregivers of children and adults with autism, wandering is a major concern and cause for stress.
Wandering, sometimes called elopement, describes when a person, usually someone who is cognitively, mentally or emotionally impaired or not developed, walks or runs away from a caregiving situation. Essentially it is a parent’s worst nightmare. Toddlers are often prone to wander out of their parents’ care, as are people with autism.
In instances of wandering, the person who leaves may find himself in a potentially dangerous situation without the means to find his way back, or communicate for help. A 2012 study by the Interactive Autism Network showed that “49 percent of parents reported that a child with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] had attempted to wander at least once after age 4” (Autism Speaks).
With the chances of wandering likely to happen, parents of children with autism can prepare themselves and their children for the situations before they arise. The National Autism Association details a dozen ways to prevent and respond to wandering.
- Understand wandering patterns and eliminate triggers
- Teach your child about wandering dangers
- Secure your home
Some examples include “installing secure dead bolt locks that require keys on both sides, a home security alarm system, inexpensive battery-operated alarms on doors, placing hook and eye locks on all doors above your child’s reach, fencing your yard, adhering printable stop signs to doors, windows and other exits, etc.” (Autism Speaks).
- Consider a tracking device
- Consider an ID bracelet
Adults and children with autism may have difficulty communicating or relating to others if lost or in an emergency situation. Wearing a medical ID engraved with “autism” can help others understand better and allow them to provide safer, more accurate emergency treatment if necessary. Autism identification jewelry can also help reunite a person with autism and his/her caretaker. Medical ID bracelets
- Enroll your child in swimming lessons
- Alert your neighbors
- Alert first responders
“Providing first responders with key information before an incident occurs may improve response. Informational handouts should include all pertinent information and be copied and carried with caregivers at all times” (Autism Speaks).
- Initiate a responsibility system for gatherings or other events
- Be aware of wandering at school, camp and other places
- Learn from other incidents
- Don’t develop a false sense of security
For additional support and resources, the Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education (AWAARE) Collaboration, has developed digital toolkits to help caregivers and first responders handle wandering incidents. AWAARE Collaboration is a joint effort of six national autism nonprofit organizations to prevent autism-related wandering.