Ask the Expert - 6 Tips to Prevent Wandering for Children on the Autism Spectrum
Posted on 08/14/19 in Safety by Holly Reimann
“I was literally gone for five minutes.”
And, in that time, her child on the spectrum wandered off.
Children on the autism spectrum have a beautiful and complex thought process. Although they don’t always communicate with words on the same level as some of their peers, their mind is always at work. The world can at times appear very confining, but often, a child with autism sees the world as wide open. This can cause children on the spectrum to have a natural tendency to want to explore that world. Wandering is very common among children on the autism spectrum, and studies show that nearly half of all children on the spectrum have a tendency to wander off.
Compounding the wandering issue is the fact that many children on the spectrum have little sense of danger. They don’t understand that certain environments can be harmful. They are often attracted to water, but have no fear that they can be hurt by it. This combination of no inhibition around water and a natural attraction to it is a deadly mix. In fact, 71% of all lethal outcomes resulting from a wandering incident are credited to a drowning or water-related death. Unfortunately, this combination made an appearance in Northeastern Ohio this summer when 3-year-old Aria Kalinich of Strongsville wandered away from her family’s home and was found lifeless in a swimming pool in a nearby neighborhood later that day.
It’s the worst feeling one could imagine. Parents often try exhaustive measures to attempt to keep their child from wandering, but children on the spectrum are often problem solvers who find unique ways to escape from locks or other devices set by parents to keep them from disappearing. So, what is a parent to do? Here are some tips to help you prevent wandering and be prepared in the event that it happens:
Secure your home.
No matter how old your child is, you need to make sure that all exits for the home can be locked safely to ensure that your child doesn’t have access to run or wander off. You might need multiple, different types of locks. Also, consider installing the lock at the very top of the door. Explore options where a sound is generated if the door or window opens, like an alarm.
Know your child’s triggers and interests.
If your child is attracted to trains, and you have one that goes by your house at the same time every day, know that this could be a trigger. Pay attention to the environment and look at the world through your child’s eyes. Know what your child is attracted to.
Teach your child water safety.
71% of all lethal results from wandering are related to drowning (National Autism Association). The more your child knows about water safety, the better. There are private and group lessons to enroll in, and some specialize in helping kids with special needs. Lessons are important, in order to teach your child how to swim and or float in the event they fall into water.
GPS tracking, monitoring bracelets, motion sensors, and cameras are all ways that you can keep tabs on your child when he/she is not within your line of vision. Some parents have even installed keypads with codes at the exterior exits of their home so that they can come and go as they please while keeping their child safe.
Be transparent and open about rules.
Children on the spectrum like structure and routine, so if a rule becomes habit, it is easier to adhere to. Set rules and spatial limits to help your child understand the boundaries. Social stories and visuals, even as simple as a “stop sign” on the doors that exit, will help teach them and increase safety awareness.
Use labels or ID tags.
Make sure that your child has identification at all times. Whether it is as simple as writing your child’s name and address in their clothing, ID/medical bracelet, or getting them a necklace with an ID tag, this is key. Many times, a child on the spectrum has an issue remembering their name, your phone number, and address, so even when an adult finds them wandering, the incident isn’t over. This helps them get home faster and with less stress.
Above all else, never leave your child at home unattended. Make sure that there is an adult present at all times, even if you are just stepping out for a minute or two. It only takes seconds for a child to wake up from a nap and disappear without parents having a clue. Parents have to be attentive and aware to protect their child from the dangers associated with wandering.
The 2019 grant cycle is now open for NAA's free Big Red Safety Box. Learn more about this resource or apply to receive one here.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Holly Reimann, MA, CCC-SLP founded Peak Potential Therapy in 2008, and, since then, she and her team have provided families across Northeast Ohio with quality care for clients in their homes, schools, community, and at Peak Potential Therapy’s center in Northfield, Ohio. Holly has a master’s degree in speech-language pathology and went above and beyond to specialize in treating children with autism by completing KSU’s graduate certificate in autism. She has prior experience as a QMRP who has worked in Indiana and Pennsylvania when she started working with individuals with special needs in 2001. Holly has dedicated her career to helping others reach their peak potential. Learn more at PeakPotentialTherapy.com or call 330-405-8776.