A lost child represents a parent’s worst nightmare. Autism parents are especially prone to this, as kids on the spectrum have a tendency to wander. All it takes is 60 seconds, and your loved one can open the front door and start walking away from the house. Luckily, there are several things you can do to help prevent wandering and protect your child in case he does get away from adult supervision.
1. Spread the Word
Especially in a school setting, inform everyone who has regular contact with your child that he has a tendency to wander. This way, your school’s teacher, therapist and counselor know to keep an extra eye out for him.
2. Add More Locks
Add more locks to your home and improve the security features of your house. A deadbolt on all doors leading to the outside is a great way to prevent kids from getting out of the house, especially if it’s a deadbolt that requires a key on both sides. Everyone who comes in and out must remember to keep the doors locked at all times and know where the keys are located. Security systems or alarms that beep when doors and windows open can also alert you to possible breaches to the outside.
3. Swimming Lessons
Swimming lessons are vital during a worst-case scenario if your child slips into a body of water (it’s very common for kids on the spectrum to be drawn to water and drown as a result). A great swim teacher specializes in teaching children with autism to swim with their clothes on to keep them safe in water.
4. Personal Identification
Temporary tattoos or ID bracelets give first responders and search teams ways to identify your child in the event he cannot communicate verbally. Medical ID bracelets include your child’s name, address and phone numbers in case of an emergency.
5. Locator or Tracking Device
Invest in a tracking device or locator. These high-tech systems use GPS trackers to hone in on someone’s location, and the software alerts you when your child goes outside of certain safe zones that you designate.
6. Go Over Safety Rules
Teach your child who is “safe” when they are away from home, including firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel. Talk to your child about the dangers of wandering and how to respond if he becomes lost. Social stories, visual tools and signage around the house, such as big red “stop” signs, can all help get the message across.
7. Avoid Triggers
Learn what triggers your kid’s wandering tendencies and try to avoid them. Noise, too much commotion, sensory overload and boredom all can lead to a child with autism wandering off. Try to understand the purpose of your child’s wandering: Does he go off to reach a goal, run away, or for random reasons? Teach your child calming methods to help alleviate stressful situations before they lead to wandering.
8. Explain Dangers
Explain the dangers that your child may run across if he becomes lost. Traffic, busy streets, unfriendly dogs, strangers and bodies of water all present potentially hazardous situations for your child that could get him into further trouble.
9. Create a Handout
Create a handout to give your neighbors so they know how to recognize your little one off by himself. Include a photograph, your address, telephone number and any other contact information. Tell your neighbors to contact you immediately if they see your kid alone.
10. Always Stay Alert
The key to all of these prevention and protective methods is to not let your guard down. Changes in interests, improved motor skills and the ability to reach locks on doors can all affect whether your child can get lost more easily. Keep any eye out for low-strung barriers that your child can climb over, holes in fences or low locks that suddenly don’t pose a challenge anymore as your child grows. An older child may also be able to remove a locator device, so securing the GPS tracker is also a vital precaution to take.