As a parent, I am so incredibly aware of my kid’s safety at every moment of the day. When our son was born we talked a lot about safety and how to allow him to explore while remaining safe. We wanted to make a conscious effort to make sure that he was both safe and still able to feed his senses through play.
No matter how much care and attention you dedicate to creating a safe space, a 2012 study shows what 49% of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder attempt to wander away from their safe, known environment and the best thing you can do it be prepared.
Here are some of my top tips for keeping kids with special needs safe.
While we might have to be our child’s first line of defense for many things, it is important that your child understands how to be safe in their environment. Think about some of the knowledge or skills that they may be able to learn to stay safe. Do they understand the need to stay away from the pool? Will they always respond if you say “stop”? Do they know not to cross the road alone? Two out of three parents of an autistic child who wandered away said their child experienced a “close call” with a traffic accident and a one in three reported a close call with possible drowning.
The National Autism Association has a list of all YMCA locations that offer special needs swimming lessons. You can find that list here.
Talk to your neighbors so they know that there is potential that your child may wander. The AWAARE Collaboration has a handy kit you can download with information, resources and information about door lock and alarms that can be used to keep your child safe. Download your kit here.
Consider an ID bracelet that has your child’s name, telephone number and any other important information like medical conditions or allergies. It might be a good idea to state that your child has autism, and if relevant, that they are non-verbal. Some kids don’t like to wear bracelets but they may be more comfortable with the idea of a temporary tattoo. Another option would be Shoe ID tags.
Always pay attention to what your child is wearing. Every single day. No one expects their child to get lost or go wondering, but knowing what he or she is wearing every day can help to quickly get a visual from afar. My son doesn’t leave the house without wearing his signature fedora hat – and I can always spot that hat across a crowded playground.
If you’re going to gathering, event or place where you suspect wandering is going to occur, implement a “tag” system whereby one adult knows that they are responsible for closely supervising your child. Make sure they understand the expectations and what they should do if your child wanders away or bolts unexpectedly.
Be mindful to document any incidences of wandering that do occur and share this information with all caregivers, teachers and the administration at school. In the event that your child does wander again, refer to this list as you know these are places that your child has been found before. Also take some time to think about your child’s obsessions or fascinations and think of where they may be able to find these things if they have wandered off.
Make sure your child’s school is aware that wandering may occur and submit a formal wandering-prevention letter to your child’s IEP team. You can find a sample in the National Autism Association’s Big Red Safety Toolkit (page 19). You may also want to speak to your primary care doctor and discuss the medical diagnostic code V40.31. Your doctor may be willing to write a letter to child’s school or IEP team too.
We all agree that it takes a village. Do you have any wandering prevention or safety tips that you’d like to share? Please share your story in the comments below.