If you are a parent to a child with autism, then you may have a child who tries or has tried to escape or elope from your home, your supervision when in public or even from their classroom at school.
It can be scary if you think you have 60 seconds to run to the bathroom and the next thing you know, the front door to your home is wide open and your child nowhere to be found. Or you believe your child is safe at school and then you get a phone call from the principal saying your child has wandered off school property.
These are scenarios that we hope never happen to you and your child. However, wandering is common in children with autism. It is not partial to a specific age-group and in many cases, it can be fatal. This is every parent’s worst nightmare. But you can prevent it from happening.
So the big question is, how do we protect your child and prevent them from eloping? And, if they do elope, what can we do to be sure they will be safe?
The following tips will help to ensure your child’s safety.
- Educate all team members. If your child works with a team at school, private therapists in your home or a therapy office, or any other setting, it is important that you share with them that your child has a tendency to elope. This will help the team to keep an extra eye on your child when in their care.
- Get an ID tag/necklace/bracelet. Regardless of whether you choose a tag tied to your child’s shoelace, a bracelet or a necklace, your child needs to wear some form of identification. If they do wander and they are nonverbal, this will be the most efficient way for first responders and/or others to know your child has autism, may be nonverbal and have your contact information to connect you back to your child as soon as possible.
- Teach your child who is “safe.” It is important to teach your child that first responders (e.g., firefighters, cops, other medical responders) are safe and helpful people. You can do this by showing your child pictures of first responders and letting your child know, these people are your friends, they help us.
- Enroll your child in swim classes. There are classes available for children with autism. Google around and see if you can find any in your area. It Is not only important to teach your child to learn to swim (to prevent water deaths, which we hear about too often in the news) but it’s important to teach your child to swim with their clothes on. It will take a specialized swim teacher to successfully do this with your child so don’t just stick them in a swim class with anybody!
- Invest in more locks! It is important to secure your home and add extra locks that your child cannot reach or does not have a key to unlock to the main doors in and out of your home. The only way you will be able to use the bathroom in peace, free of worry, is if you secure your home properly. Alarm systems are also another great way to do this, so you are alerted each time someone opens or closes the doors to your home.
Over time your child can be taught that it is not safe to leave the house without mom, dad or another caregiver present. But chances are this will be a challenge to teach your child and even when you are up for that challenge, it takes time. Take action now and put a plan in place to keep that child you love so much safe. Using the tips provided today will help put you on the right track to protecting your child from wandering.
Hallie Bulkin, MA, CCC-SLP, is a wife, mother, daughter, business owner, pediatric speech-language pathologist, blogger, foodie and advocate for children with special needs (with a passion for working with families living with autism). Hallie owns a speech language pathology, occupational and physical therapy practice, Little Sprout Speech, located in North Bethesda, Maryland. She also hosts her own blog, LittleSproutSpeech.com. You can find her hanging out on Facebook @ http://fb.com/halliebulkinbiz or on twitter @halliebulkin. She can also be reached at Clientcare@littlesproutspeech.com
This article was featured in Issue 45 – Protecting Your Child with Autism