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Wandering


Wandering is ranked among the most stressful behaviors a parent deals with, especially with a child with ASD.  It is a critical safety issue.  Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders are unable to recognize danger and create extraordinary worry and stress among caregivers.  Children with ASD are eight times more likely to wander off between the ages of 7 and 10 than their typically developing siblings.  There really are no seasonal patterns to wandering.

Why do children wander? To get something or to get away from something.

• Children will gravitate to items of interest
• Wander for exploring
• Go to their favorite place
• Wander to pursue a special topic
• Escape an environment due to sensory discomfort
• Leave an over-stimulating environment
• Go into flight or fright emotions with episodes of distress and meltdowns
• Leave a fearful setting or location with high anxiety
• Wandering may also be triggered by being in an unsecured or unfamiliar environment

Supervision alone cannot solve the wandering issues.  Additional measures should also be in place to help secure the home and prevent a child from wandering.  Planning ahead is the most valuable strategy.  Prepare a family wandering emergency plan.

Secure Your Home and School

• Install battery alarms where doors open or people cross through an opening
• Fence in the yard
• Adhere stop signs for visual reminders at doors, exits and gates
• Have a behavior plan as part of the child’s IEP if they tend to wander
• Regularly reassess and update home security measures
• Service dogs can be trained to help watch over a child

Teach Your Child

• Use wait cards and teach your child to do a specific task while waiting
• Use social stories to teach your child to stay in the house or a routine to ask to go for a walk
• If they wander at night increase physical activity during the day and do not allow napping.  Practice good sleeping habits
• Teach your child to swim (Many children wander to a water source)
• Teach your child stop/go games and when you say stop they freeze

Alert Your Neighbors

• Share information on a handout with your neighbor
• Have 3 to 5 willing neighbor volunteers to make your own immediate search party
• Ask them to call immediately if they see your child outside the home
• Share your child’s fears and sensory issues
• Share with them a song or what might calm your child

Alert First Responders

• Have a family wandering emergency plan
• Create an emergency point person to contact others
• Keep a prepared form on the child in your purse or wallet at all times. 
• Make sure photos and physical information is up to date
• Some areas have tracking devices or directories for people with special needs
• Have favorite locations mapped out and highlight water sources and dangerous places

Special Events or Large Crowds

• Know what your child is wearing
• Attach a balloon to his/her clothing
• Have an ID bracelet, identification in his/her clothing or jewelry tags

Keep a Journal of Wandering

• Outline escape patterns
• Note triggers
• Document where they were found and who found them
• Record what the family and school is doing to prevent elopement.

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