Autism is an condition that affects over 1.5 million people in the U.S., including adults, and wandering is a behavior that is challenging for all. A generation ago, most children who were diagnosed with it were institutionalized. Thankfully, parents, schools, physicians and society in general now know most of the symptoms and behaviors of those afflicted, and can work with these individuals to ensure that they have a healthy and safe lifestyle. Without preparation for wandering, an individual can possibly leave the house and encounter dangerous circumstances. Preparing one’s home, and taking measures to protect those with autism can give a sense of security to those that care for them.
As much as you may want to be there for your child or adult that you are offering caregiving to, there will be moments when you cannot supervise every second. Bathing, sleeping, working or just turning your back for a few moments to complete a task can allow enough time for your charge to walk out the front or back door and “elope” as wandering is sometimes called. The risks are real if the individual gets too far – overexposure to heat or cold, accidents involving traffic, and unfortunately, drowning. Here are a few tips to prevent the wandering:
1. Place a STOP sign on all doors and describe what it means, and that it is there to remind them to tell you if they want to go outside.
2. Install an alert system on doors and windows to notify you if either are opened.
3. Install a double-sided deadbolt on doors and do not allow the child or adult see where you keep the key.
4. Fence your yard.
Recovering a Wanderer
Should the child or adult with autism wander, there are methods to help you recover them more quickly.
1. Place a medical bracelet with name, address, phone number and note that the individual has autism, so that a person finding them can notify you at once.
2. Have the person wear a GPS device on their belt, wrist, or on a lanyard around their neck as a safety precaution.
3. Alert your neighbors of the person with autism’s condition in case they happen to come upon them if they are out unsupervised.
4. If the autistic person does happen to wander, be prepared with a sheet that has a current photo and describes any identifying features, contact information, the individual’s favorite songs, toys or hobbies, any sensory, medical or dietary issues, and the method of best communication to give to those looking.
5. Teach your child or adult with autism how to swim. Because those with autism are naturally drawn to water, to potential for them to want to seek out a pool, a lake or a stream is high. When they are prepared, they may be safer. Make sure the final swimming test is done with clothes on.
These steps may not prevent wandering, but an ID and a GPS device will help you greatly in recovering a person with autism who wanders.