Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Dangers of Wandering in Autistic Children

I created Fitness for Health more than 25 years ago to help special needs children maximize their physical potential and, through that time, the Autistic community and local special needs parents have become like a second family to me.  So, today my blog will focus on a very important topic and one that is close to heart - the dangers of Autistic children wandering off.

There has been a lot of news coverage in recent months about Autistic children wandering away from their homes and schools.  One case still receiving much needed publicity is Avonte Oquendo, a non-verbal, Autistic 14-year-old boy who walked out of his school in Long Island, NY, last month.  Unfortunately, Avonte is still missing.

A 2012 study published in the journal, Pediatrics, confirms what parents of Autistic children already know too well - wandering by children with autism is commonplace.  Using parent surveys, the researchers found that nearly half of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) attempt to wander or bolt from a safe, supervised place. More than half of these wandering children go missing – often into dangerous situations.

To ensure our children remain safe - especially now that the weather is turning colder - and avert further tragedies for parents, I want to share these tips from Approach Autism with Advocacy, Recovery & Education (AAWARE).

Six Tips to Help Prevent Wandering and Wandering-Related Tragedies
From AWAARE: Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education Coalition

1. Secure Your Home.  Consider contacting a professional locksmith, security company or home improvement professional to promote safety and prevention in your home. You may find it is necessary to prevent your loved one from slipping away unnoticed by installing secure dead bolt locks that require keys on both sides, a home security alarm system, inexpensive battery-operated alarms on doors, placing hook and eye locks on all doors above your child's reach, fencing your yard, adhering printable STOP SIGNS to doors, windows and other exits, etc.

2. Consider a Tracking Device.  Check with local law enforcement for Project Lifesaver or LoJak SafetyNet services. These tracking devices are worn on the wrist or ankle and locate the individual through radio frequency. Various GPS tracking systems are also available.

3. Consider an ID Bracelet.  Medical ID bracelets will include your name, telephone number and other important information. They may also state that your child has autism and is non-verbal if applicable. If your child will not wear a bracelet or necklace, consider a temporary tattoo with your contact information. 

4. Teach Your Child to Swim.  Swimming lessons for children with special needs are available at many YMCA locations. The final lesson should be with clothes on. Remember: teaching your child how to swim does not mean your child is safe in water. If you own a pool, fence it and if neighbors have pools, let them know of these safety precautions and your child's tendency to wander. Remove all toys or items of interest from the pool when not in use.

5. Alert Your Neighbors.  It is recommended that caregivers plan a brief visit with neighbors to introduce their loved or provide a photograph. Knowing your neighbors can help reduce the risks associated with wandering. See the caregiver tool kit below for resources to use to alert them. 

6. Alert First Responders.  Providing first responders with key information before an incident occurs may improve response. Informational handouts should include all pertinent information and be copied and carried with caregivers at all times. Circulate the handout to family, neighbors, friends and co-workers, as well as first responders. Click here for resources to use to alert them. 

I hope these resources help to keep our children safe and secure.  Please keep Avonte and his family in your thoughts.

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