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Wandering can occur anywhere at anytime. The first time can often be the worst time. This is a brochure with suggestions for keeping someone with autism who wanders safe.
According to data from a 2011 study conducted by the Kennedy Krieger Institute, almost half of all children with autism wander.
In 2008, Danish researchers found that the mortality rate among the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) population is twice as high as the general population. In 2001, a California research team found that elevated death rates among those with ASD were in large part attributed to drowning.
Drowning often occurs as a result of wandering off. Drowning, along with prolonged exposure and other factors, remain among the top causes of death within the autism population. Although there is no known data that recognizes whether deaths associated with wandering are on the rise within the autism population, anecdotal reports suggest an increase.
There are various reasons someone with ASD may wander. Many times it is to get to something (water, park, train tracks, etc.) or to get away from something (noise, bright lights, commotion, etc.). Someone with ASD is likely aware when attention has shifted away from them and may take the opportunity to slip out quickly in order to reach a desired area or item of interest.
Family gatherings or other events may give a false impression of “all eyes on” someone with ASD. However, heavy distractions can present opportunities to leave unnoticed. Visiting relatives or episodes of distress also may increase the risk for wandering.
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:
Check with local law enforcement for Project Lifesaver or LoJack SafetyNet services. These personal locating devices are worn on the wrist or ankle and locate the individual through radio frequency. Various GPS locating systems are also available. See the resources section for more information.
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 shoe ID or temporary tattoo with your contact information. See the resources section for more information.
Swimming lessons for children with special needs are available at many YMCA locations. The final lesson should be with clothes on. Remember:
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend swimming classes as the primary means of drowning prevention. Constant, careful supervision and barriers such as pool fencing are necessary even when children have completed swimming classes. All families are encouraged to seek training in swimming, lifesaving, first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
It is recommended that caregivers plan a brief visit with neighbors to introduce their loved one or provide a photograph. Knowing your neighbors can help reduce the risks associated with wandering.
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.
This resource created by National Autism Association