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9 Things You Can Do to Protect Your Special Child from the Dangers of Wandering

June 5, 2023

Prevent Autism Wandering


Autism affects millions of children and young adults around the world. For many parents what’s most challenging about the condition is their child’s tendency to wander off. In fact, wandering or elopement is so common among children with autism spectrum disorders that it’s estimated that more than half of children with the condition tend to wander off from safe places. While this behavior tends to peak at age 4, almost 30% of children with autism between the ages of 7 and 10 still wander.


Protect special children from wandering


Wandering can be dangerous and sometimes ends in tragedy. One report suggests that of the wandering incidents that caused parents to worry, 65% involved a close call with traffic while 32% almost ended in drowning. Wandering puts special children at risk of drowning, being run over or being harmed by a stranger. Avonte Oquendo and Kevin Willis, two teens with autism who drowned after wandering from safety, serve as a painful reminder of why more needs to be done to protect our children from the dangers of wandering. 


Why do children with autism wander?


One of the most damaging myths is that children with autism wander because of inattentive or irresponsible parenting. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Children can wander from any setting including their home or school and even when under adult supervision.


Research suggests that special children wander for a variety of reasons. For some children wandering helps them cope with sensory overwhelm or anxiety. In these situations, a child might head for water as this tends to have a calming effect on an anxious child. However, for others wandering is something they do because they’re curious to explore or simply enjoy running. Some research suggests that 54% of special children wander simply because they love to explore.


Perhaps what’s most worrying of all is research which suggests that many special needs parents received no guidance or advice on how to manage their child’s wandering. This needs to change. It’s our hope that with enough awareness and collective action, we can prevent future tragedies from happening. We’ve put together some tips and strategies to help prevent wandering related tragedies. 


1. Add signs to all doors in your house


A combination of verbal and visual signs placed on each door at your child’s eye level can be a useful way to ensure your child thinks before they act. Some parents say that this technique is quite effective and more often than not, it helps dissuade their children from wandering. Something as simple as a red wait sign can be helpful when parents reinforce its meaning. When opening a door, a parent could point at the sign and say something like: “Remember, we can’t go until I say so,” or “Remember, you need my permission to go out there.


2. Add chimes to doors


It’s easy to install door chimes on interior doors. These act as an alarm and will alert you when a door is opened. While you’ll still need to be vigilant, door chimes can be an effective alert system. This is also a very affordable and convenient option. Most hardware stores sell window alarms for a few dollars and they work well as a door alarm.


3. Secure all doors


Some special needs parents use slide bolts to secure doors. This isn’t always a good option and can make it difficult for other members of the family to open doors. Another idea is to simply install an electronic keypad which requires a code to unlock the door. Of course, the tricky part is that you have to ensure your child doesn’t learn the code.


4. Reach out to your neighbors


Your neighbors can play a big role in helping you keep your child safe. In fact, if you open up and confide in your neighbors you’re likely to find that most are empathetic and willing to help. One of the best ways to enlist their help is by printing flyers with a picture of your child and your contact details. When you hand these out, you can explain that if someone sees your child wandering around the neighborhood unaccompanied, they should call the number on the flyer immediately. In addition to added security for your child, this is also a great way to spread awareness about autism.


5. Get your child an ID bracelet


While ID bracelets can be a reliable way to keep your child safe, not all special needs children will wear a bracelet. If your child doesn’t mind wearing bracelets, you can include your contact number, your child’s name as well as information about your child’s condition. If your child is nonverbal, for example, a bracelet can be a good way to communicate this to strangers. For special children who struggle wearing jewelry, you can consider a temporary tattoo with your contact information.


Take special children for swimming lessons


6. Take your child for swimming lessons


Teaching your child with autism to swim will give them more confidence in water, and decreases the likelihood of drowning. Of course this doesn’t mean your child is safe in water. Remember it’s natural for panic to set in if your child falls into water even if they know how to swim. The hope is that knowing how to swim will give your child the tools to know what to do until help arrives. Swimming lessons for special needs children are on offer at most YMCA locations around the country.


7. Use glow stick during night time events


Hanging a glow stick around your child’s neck during an outdoor nighttime event makes it easier to keep track of your child. While this won’t prevent your child from wandering, it does make it easier to spot your child. Some parents also wear glow sticks so that it’s easy for their special children to find them when they feel overwhelmed or anxious.


Set outside traps for your special child


8. Set outdoor barriers


This is one of the best ways to use your child’s interest to prevent them from wandering too far. Find something that your child is fascinated by and place the object in strategic places in your front yard or the area around your apartment. This could be anything from pinwheels to garden gnomes. The idea is that should your child leave the house unaccompanied, they’ll see the object and spend time admiring or playing with it. This will stall your child, giving you some time to find them before they get too far.


9. Invest in an Assistive Technology


There are many different tracking devices on the market which can help you keep track of your child. The AngelSense Assistive Technology for autism<span style=”font-weight: 400;”> is a non-removable solution that includes a GPS tracking device that was specially designed for children with special needs and sensory sensitivities. It provides you with real-time locations updates and alerts and a listen-in option, so you always know where your child is and can easily sense their well-being. An assistive technology is not only an effective way to protect your child – it will also give you the peace of mind that your child  is safe and secure.


6 Comments

  1. Dora Morales April 11, 2018 at 4:59 am - Reply

    I think this will be an excellent idea for my 12yo grandson. Thank you, j can’t wait to try if.

  2. Brian Mills April 21, 2018 at 2:07 am - Reply

    Are they waterproof yet? And is there other options to attach them to a child. Right now we have a lifesaver on my daughter and it is attached around her ankle. Do you have some way of attaching it to their ankle? I don’t know about anybody else but the service price seems high to me. I am on a budget but if it saves my daughters life then I would gladly pay it.

  3. Leo July 24, 2018 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    How do you know they will not just throw the gps out. They might even go in water and the gps will not even work. I don’t think my child will even like to wear something that will track his every move. He is also afraid that people will judge him if he wears the gps. I insist on making the technology water proof and manufacture the gps into a cloth so it can be easily sewn onto cloths and nobody will see a thing so it looks normal. Keep trying to help autism!!!!!!!!!!!😇🤗🙂🙃😉

    • Aimee from AngelSense March 26, 2024 at 1:51 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your comment. I wanted to share that our both our devices are water resistant (not water proof) we also offer a waterproof pouch to ensure that the device is able to be worn when engaging in water activities. We would love the opportunity to further assist you. https://www.angelsense.com/help/contacting-customer-support/

  4. Jeremy Bonnot February 6, 2023 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Hello,
    Is AngelSense available for France? Please let me know as we really need it !
    Best regards,
    Jeremy

    • Aimee from AngelSense March 26, 2024 at 1:54 pm - Reply

      Thank you for reaching out! We currently are not supported in France. We are hopeful this will change in the future.

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