Parent Tips: When They Wander or Run Away
By Shelly Allred, Pathfinders for Autism
Teach your child water safety
91% of deaths related to wandering are caused by drowning. That’s right - 91%. Teach your child to swim, doggy paddle, or float.
How quickly can you describe your child?
Awareness of self and dangers
Our kids may not have real awareness of dangers in their environment. How often have we witnessed our kids run out into a street? Some may also be seeking sensory input, so running or running into objects may help feed that. But our kids aren't watching what's going on around them when they take off. Practice crossing streets during a non-crisis time. Maybe carry a paper stop sign to hold up, giving them a visual reminder. For older children, try prompting instructions into a less conspicuous Bluetooth.
Inform ALL staff at the school of your child's elopement issues so teachers will be on the lookout if they see him heading towards a door, or to keep a sharp eye on him at recess. Accompany your child on field trips, or make certain that a person is assigned directly to your child for the trip. Just because a teacher knows your child has tendencies to run away doesn't mean that the teacher will keep an eye on him. When my son was in preschool, one of the teachers admitted to me that they lost another child three times during that day's field trip.
Take your child to the local police and fire precincts
There are multiple reasons for doing this. First, introduce local law and fire enforcement (the First Responders) to your child and make them aware he has autism. This way if they see him out in the community and he seems out of place, they will be aware that maybe he has run away. You can share the Autism Speaks' Autism Safety Projectfor Aid First Responders.
If your child does run away, we want them to know who is safe to approach. So introduce them to the “safe” people they can go to for help. And practice the steps of what to do if your child ever becomes lost.
Tattoos and tags
Technology to the rescue
Technology, such as GPS devices, can be am amazing tool, but tracking should be the last step. Always start with preventive measures and preparation. There are personal GPS devices such as Angel Sense. Before making any purchase, do your homework on the product, and consider if your child would remove a device he needed to wear. Check the Pathfinders Safety Page for links to a variety of tracking devices.
Why do they run?
In addition to devices designed to prevent our kids from eloping, and gadgets to find them when they do, behavior therapy may serve as a more lasting tool. A behavior therapist can work to determine the function of the elopement, whether it’s escaping a difficult situation, running to a preferred activity, or seeking something sensory. Once the function is identified, appropriate interventions can be developed.
The ICD-9-CM Diagnostic Code for Wandering
Effective October 1, 2011, wandering was added to the diagnostic coding system clinicians use, which is known as the International Classification of Diseases, or ICD-9-CM. The wandering code is not linked to a specific diagnosis, nor is it part of the diagnostic codes used for autism or intellectual disabilities. The ICD-9-CM classifies behaviors and risk factors in addition to diseases and syndromes; as such, the wandering code is used in conjunction with other diagnostic and symptom or procedure codes. This code is intended to capture information about individuals, with any condition classified in the ICD, who wander. Wandering should be coded if documented in the medical record by the provider (i.e., physician).
Pathfinders for Autism Safety Page
Visit the Pathfinders for Autism provider database and choose Category>Safety
AWAARE Collaboration (Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education)
PSA from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
FBI Child ID App for your mobile phone (Also available on iTunes)
Autism and Wandering Video from the National Autism Association
"Wandering Off: Elopement" from the American Academy of Pediatrics
Big Red Safety Box educational materials and tools from the National Autism Association
Pathfinders for Autism does not endorse any products.
When they wander or run away.pdf