On New Year’s Eve, tragedy struck in Allentown, PA. Every parent’s worst fear: a small, 5 year old boy with autism had wandered off during a family party at the house. Two days later, everyone’s worst fears were realized. Moments such as this remind us of the importance in trying to prevent wandering, but also in being prepared for it should it happen.
Over the years, I have shared some safety measures you can take for wandering children. Below I have revisited the most important tips that have helped me over the years. Remember – preparation is the most important thing you can do in the event of an emergency!
Identification – Today, there are many options available. ID cards that include your child’s picture, height, weight, hair/eye color and any other identifying marks are the most traditional and least expensive method, but ID bracelets, necklaces, and even temporary tattoos are other options. Should your child be found by a stranger, ID cards can relay important medical information as well as whom to contact in the event of an emergency.
Tracking Devices – Oh, the power of technology! Today, there are several varieties of tracking devices. Some are GPS style bracelets that are typically facilitated by local law enforcement. Others are small units able to be placed in a child’s pocket or backpack that you can monitor from your phone or computer. Whatever your preference, it’s important to remember that tracking devices are a last measure device – close adult supervision and home security should always be taken as a primary measure of your child’s safety.
Water Safety – I have mentioned this several times, but I am so thankful that Ryan learned to swim at an early age. Although I am pleased he finds it therapeutic and it is a good form of exercise, my primary intention was to prevent drowning should Ryan ever wander towards a body of water. Remember that swimming lessons with a child with autism may go more slowly, but it is well worth your patience!
Community Support – A very simple yet often overlooked step. Get to know your neighbors. Plan a brief visit to several surrounding homes to introduce yourself and your child, describing some of the positive as well as challenging behaviors of your child. I always emphasized the issue of wandering an stressed that if a neighbor saw Ryan out by himself to please engage him in conversation and walk him home. You can provide your neighbor with a small handout with your contact information.
Home Security – There are many inexpensive possibilities. I have an alarm system on my doors so that whenever the door opens, a bell rings. This has been very helpful – especially when you are not in the same room as your child.
911 Call Center – in Erie and many communities these centers maintain a special needs registry. I signed Ryan up many years ago… again, another precaution.
Practice, practice, practice! Since Ryan was a preschooler, we’ve talked about staying close to me at all times when out and about. Our term is “stuck like glue.” Whenever we’re out I expect a crowd. We role play and talk about what he’s supposed to do and what he should do if he becomes lost.
My prayers go out to all families who have experienced such tragedies! Please feel free to share any helpful tips I may have missed below.