A leading cause of concern for many parents of children on the autism spectrum is that they may accidentally run or wander away. This is also called elopement. The time to address elopement is before it becomes an emergency. Elopement may happen at any age.
How can I keep my child safe?
The following are some tools and ideas to help you plan for and prevent your child from wandering away from your home:
- Install a home security alarm system.
- Install inexpensive battery-operated alarms on doors and windows to alert you when they are opened. These are available at stores like WalMart and Radio Shack®.
- Place hook and eye locks on all doors, above your child’s reach.
- Fence in the yard.
- Plan a brief visit to your neighbors and introduce your child (or show them a photograph). Give them your phone number in case they spot your child outside of your yard.
- Install secure dead bolt locks that require keys on both sides. (This can be a fire hazard so try other options first.)
When planning for or responding to any safety emergency, consider the following:
- Will your child respond to his or her name being called?
- Will your child go with a stranger?
- Does your child have a fear of cars or animals or is he or she drawn to them?
- Does your child have a fear of or is he or she drawn to water (for example, fountains and pools)?
My child is at risk for eloping. What other protections are available?
- Consider a Medical Identification Bracelet for your child. There are a number of different types, which can be purchased online. The bracelet should include your name and your child’s name and telephone number. It should state that your child has autism and is non-verbal, if applicable. If your child will not wear a bracelet or necklace, consider a temporary tattoo with your contact information. You may also want to consider writing your child’s information in his or her clothing using permanent marker.
- Consider a personal tracking device. Some consist of a small unit that is put in a child’s pocket or backpack and works with your computer or mobile phone so that you can monitor your child’s location. Others involve a handheld unit for the parent which tracks the location of the child’s wristband. Some units work with local law enforcement and rescue personnel. The tracking distance for the devices varies considerably and ranges from 300 feet for parent monitored units to one mile on the ground and 5-7 miles from the air for those monitored by rescue personnel. Some systems include waterproof tracking devices. Prices range from around $200 for some parent monitoring units to several thousands of dollars for units tied into local rescue personnel. Many local law enforcement agencies have experience using units for tracking residents on the autism spectrum or those with Alzheimer’s and Down’s Syndrome, so check with your local law enforcement agency for a compatible system.
- Don’t forget behavioral training for safety. In addition to the safeguards mentioned above, work with your behavioral specialist and school personnel to develop behavior plans to shape your child’s behavior for safety. Training and reinforcement in specific, common situations, such as leaving school and arriving at home, getting into and out of the car, and going to neighborhood locations can help your child learn to stay near you in public. Safety goals can be written into your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).