From Our Experts: Managing Your Child's Safety

Preventing and Responding to Wandering Behavior
Submitted by Tiffany Francese-Sears MA, LMHC

As parents and teachers, we are always concerned about our child’s safety. It is estimated that approximately 49% of children with ASD have a tendency to wander or bolt from safe settings. Individuals with ASD are often attracted to water, yet have little to no sense of danger.

It is very important that we specifically teach the children about danger and ways to stay safe. It is necessary for parents and caregivers to have plan in place to help limit this behavior from occurring and how to respond if your child is missing. Here are practical tips:

1) Secure the home: secure locks on doors and windows, install a home security alarm system. If you have a child who is a night time wanderer a bed alarm may be helpful.  Install fencing –especially around pools. Purchase a portable lock that you can take with you when you travel. Adhere printable Stop Signs at exit points and display child locator decals on your windows.

2) Secure your Child: have your child wear an ID tag such as a medic-alert bracelet, shoe tag, temporary tattoo, pocket card, and/or a seat guard. Parents may also want to consider a “tracking device” for your child to wear which will send you notification of your child’s location. During outings, dress your child in easily distinguishable clothing and take a picture of your child before you go out so you can provide this to First Responders if needed. Complete a Safety and identification form with vital information and keep a copy with you. Most importantly, assign a clear supervision responsibility- hand hold, arm’s reach, visual monitoring etc.

3) Teach your child: Parents may want to consider swimming lessons. Parents should also try and teach their child to respond to his/her name and to respond to inhibitory words such as “no”, “stop”, “come here” with increasing distance and distraction. Teach your child to “walk with me” or “stay with me”. It also can be helpful if parents teach their child to identify himself (name, address, phone) either verbally or with an ID card.

4) Develop a Family Response Plan: Assign an emergency point person who can contact First Responders, family and neighbors, providing them with a copy of your child’s safety and identification form. Inform local law enforcement and emergency responders about your child’s wandering behavior.