Many of my clients live in a constant state of vigilance because their children are prone to leave. Some call this behavior “wandering” but in fact it is better described as bolting. Some children show no awareness of self safety, and will try to get to their object of interest when possible. Unfortunately, the things they want to see are often dangerous, like water, freeways, or trains. Plus, because of a lack of self-care, they are vulnerable to extreme temperatures and can be unable to ask for help.
Increasingly, the media is reporting incidents of wandering which resulted in tragic endings. This reporting is a good thing, because the result is now governmental action in the United States. What hasn’t been adequately addressed, however, are the day-to-day realities of living with or teaching a person who can and will leave at any point.
The US Department of Justice has agreed to fund GPS devices with monitoring for people with autism. The devices will be provided through local law enforcement agencies. The announcement came in a New York Times article.
If someone with Autism who wanders is in your care, there are steps you can take to increase safety.
- Put locks on doors and windows that can’t be opened by the person who wanders.
- Use child safety locks on car doors so they can’t be opened from inside.
- Use an alarm system that chimes when someone enters or leaves.
- Focus on teaching the verbal command “Stop!”
- If possible, teach child to ask for help from a person who is uniform or behind a counter, like a waiter, officer, store clerk, etc.
- Have non-verbal people wear safety jewelry with contact information.
- Have a safety plan in place to be used by family members, caregivers and teachers.