Autism wandering is a much discussed issue, a 2012 study found nearly fifty percent of children with Autism wander or bolt from a supervised or safe place, sometimes to a place of danger. More importantly, researchers found wandering is NOT
due to inattentive parenting and, many parents have received very little help to deal with the problem. I want to share a very scary personal story of mine, a story that still gives me nightmares and, some practical easy to implement autism wandering strategies for parents I have personally used myself.
I remember the day as if it was yesterday, Ravi ( my husband) was out, I was getting dressed to attend my friend’s daughters first birthday, Rohan (my eldest son) came running in ” Niam is missing , Niam is missing!” We quickly searched the house, Niam was nowhere to be found. I ran outside, looked in the yard, my eyes darted towards both sides of the street, I could not see Niam anywhere. My heart stopped beating. I called 911 in a frantic, alerted my neighbours, who immediately got in their cars to look for my son. Twenty long minutes later I received a 911 phone call, six police cars had circled Niam on a extremely busy street with speeding cars driving fast both ways. Niam would not enter the police cars and to keep him safe, the police decided to circle him. When I arrived there, he was in his own little world in the enclosed safe circle. Niam left the house without his shoes, a coat , playing chicken on the road with a ball. I was horrified at the prospects of what could have happened.
The police informed me, 17 911 phone calls were placed by concerned citizens who saw a young child alone playing chicken with a ball on a busy road. One man stopped ( Niam’s hero), risked his life, ran into the busy street to bring Niam to safety. To his dismay, He reported Niam escaped to run back into the street, almost being dragged by a truck. If any day I was thankful Niam was not wearing a jacket that could could have caught on the van and dragged him, this was the day. Even as I write this, I have to blank out from my memory what could have happened.
Rightfully so, I was questioned by police if I provided Niam with adequate clothing, shoes and supervision. They wanted to make sure neglect was not a reason. To some it may seem offensive to ask these questions, but I think its great. Asking questions ensures the safety of our children.
Coupled with the issue of wandering is SAFETY for our children. How do you teach safety to our children? For those with language delays this can be difficult. I created a free social story ” I Will Not Go With Strangers” Please download this very important free social story, I Will Not Go With Strangers, to read, discuss and role play with your child.
I have implemented some Autism and Wandering Protocols for Niam to help us keep track of Niam.
7 Autism and Wandering Tips
1. It is mandatory for the house alarm to be on at all times. If Niam was to leave we would know in a very short time he has left the house. I am happy to report the days of Niam leaving the house to wander away are a thing of the past.
2. He wears a medical alert bracelet with a toll free number, if someone finds him, it is easy to make contact with us.
3. I read a free social stories like ” I Will Stop When I See A Stop Sign” to Niam on a regular basis, the stories encourage Niam to stay in the home, classroom, with parents, and teachers.
4. I used stop signs and placed them all over the house to remind Niam he is not to go past this location. These stop signs can also be placed on cupboards where items are kept you don’t want your child to touch. Ie, medicine cabinet or cleaners. I have provided the same stop signs to Niam’s teachers to remind Niam, he is not to leave without asking.
I am happy to report we no longer need the free stop signs!
5. I have been working on teaching Niam how to cross at the traffic light, stop signs, look both ways, sidewalks are walking, roads are for cars, have given him swimming lessons, I am trying my best to teach skills he could use in a situation he happens to be alone. These are great life skills that can be taught in the classroom.
6. I try to understand why Niam may wander and do the BEST I can to prevent wandering. I started by making a list of all of Niam’s fascinations and, provided them to his teachers and relevant people in his life. Once I compiled this list, I tried to give him his “fix” in a adult supervised time. Niam knows on what days and for what duration he will have time for his obsessions. For example, Niam left the house, for French Fries, an obsession I had been depriving him, worried about his health and weight gain. He walked on the street playing chicken with his ball, with a handful of change in his pocket on his way to purchase French Fries. I know he loves French Fries but I also know I need to curb his obsession for his health. I have now programmed into his schedule French Fries with cheese curd, no gravy, once a week at the movie theatre on Friday nights. Any demands during the week, results in sweet potato fries, baked at home.
7. Many parents report they put GPS on their children. This is a great idea, especially if you are going to a crowded busy place or vacation.
I know Niam likes to spend time playing outside with his favourite but unusual passions. I schedule those in during the week as well, and accompany him, ensuring there is adult supervision.
Niam’s wandering for French Fries has not occurred again, but to be honest, Niam’s wandering has not been eliminated, there are always new fascinations and, places/things he wants to explore. Sometimes, I think Niam just loves a little bit of independence.
I use this Free Emergency Contract Form, I have it filled out, and have given copies to Niam’s teachers, relevant people in his life, I have a copy handy at home and, carry one folded in my purse, in case of emergency. These are great forms that can be used by teachers, easily referenced and used in emergency situations.
Autism and Wandering is a real issue. Don’t be quick to judge the parent. Just help them in a situation. Every situation is teachable. It is important to note any child weather they are neurotypical or not, can use these resources. Wandering at a young age, can be done by anyone of any age.
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