6 Safeguards to Implement for When Your Child with Autism Wanders Off

Most parents do everything they can to ensure that their children remain safe and under adequate supervision at all times. However, there may sometimes be nothing you can do to keep a child from wandering off (or “eloping”), no matter how hard you try. This is particularly the case if someone in your care (whether they be a child or an adult) has autism.

People with autism are often prone to wandering and running away. There may be a variety of reasons why children with autism wander, but some contributing factors are a lack of safety awareness, a tendency to be easily distracted, or a desire to leave a certain situation that makes them uncomfortable. Wandering behavior is exhibited in about half of children with autism, which places them in danger of injury or even death, usually by accidental drowning.

Of course, none of us want to lose track of our children. But in the event that you do, there are some things you can do in advance to help make sure yours gets home safely. Here are some things you may want to add to your emergency plan so that you can be more prepared in the event that your child goes missing.

Photo: Unsplash/Istiaque EmonIstiaque
Photo: Unsplash/Istiaque EmonIstiaque

6. Talk to your child about safety.

Because autism is a spectrum and everyone who has this disorder is different, you’ll have to use your best judgment in giving your child the amount of information and the type of instruction they can handle. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to try to teach your child more about safety, including skills like swimming and safely crossing the street. You may not always be able to keep your child from running off, but perhaps something you’ve said will stick with them and help keep them safe while they’re gone.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Photographee.eu
Photo: Adobe Stock/Photographee.eu

5. Get your child an ID bracelet or tag.

Some parents prefer a bracelet or necklace, while others put a keychain or tag on an object the child always carries with them (or write directly on the item). The trick is to attach the identification information to something that will be with the child the vast majority of the time, because you can’t predict when they’ll run off.

The information you choose to attach may include your name, address, phone number, and other clues that will help people contact you if they find your child out and about. You may also want to include the child’s name and the fact that they have autism; this is particularly important for nonverbal or very shy children.

Photo: Adobe Stock/daniaphoto
Photo: Adobe Stock/daniaphoto

4. Use a GPS tracker.

If your child tends to get lost on a regular basis or if there is a strong concern for their safety if they were to get lost, a GPS tracking device might not be a bad idea. You can get them in the form of watches, bracelets, keychains, and a variety of other styles to suit your child’s individual needs.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Samio20
Photo: Adobe Stock/Samio20

3. Stay in touch with your community.

Your greatest resources for finding your child fast after they go missing are the eyes and ears of your community—the people who are most likely to see your child walking down the street somewhere nearby. Get to know your neighbors and tell them about your child’s tendency to wander so that they can keep an eye out for an unsupervised child wandering around. Similarly, tell everyone who regularly comes into contact with your child about their tendency to wander—this can help prevent wandering in the first place.


2. Keep a current photo of your child.

As part of your emergency plan for a wandering child, it’s a good idea to always keep a current photograph of your child. This will help police, neighbors, and others look for your missing child. You might even try taking a photo of your child every morning so that you’ve got an accurate record of what they’re wearing in case they disappear, especially if you have a child who tends to elope on a regular basis.

Photo: Adobe Stock/zhukovvvlad
Photo: Adobe Stock/zhukovvvlad

1. Get a service dog.

For people with autism who are particularly prone to wandering, service dogs can be trained to attempt to prevent the person from wandering, as well as to seek help if the person with autism has eloped.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Dmitriy Kapitonenko
Photo: Adobe Stock/Dmitriy Kapitonenko

If your child has gone missing, be sure to call 911 immediately. The longer your child is out and about unsupervised, the greater their risk of coming into contact with dangerous situations like traffic, open water, dehydration, or unfriendly animals.

However, the majority of kids get home all right in the end, and we know you’re on top of things when it comes to keeping your child safe! So keep these tips in mind and rest assured that you’re doing everything you can to make sure your child makes it home. You’re doing a great job!

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