Why wandering is a bigger problem in American than a lion dying in Zimbabwe seems to be a nonsensical question to me. Since June 1, 2015 , 16 children with autism have wandered off and drowned in bodies of water. That is a staggering number. Yet most Americans can’t name one of them. Ask someone what the name of the lion who was killed by the dentist. They could probably even name the dentist. This is mind boggling to me.
Children with autism have no sense of danger. Children in general are attracted to water. Can you see how that combination can be deadly? I remember when Logan was younger, he would bolt as soon as he got out of the car. There was only one speed for him. Fast. He didn’t sleep a lot then either so it was more than a little exhausting. I had to have him in a harness or by the arm at all times. He would dodge cars in the parking lot if we didn’t. He would chase ducks right into the water. I’ll never forget the time he saw the change on the pillars outside of the ferry at Disney so he climbed the railing . He was seriously going to jump over to get them. How I didn’t have a heart attack those days is a mystery to me.
Add in a child who is non verbal to make the mix even more devastating. Wandering or elopement is a serious problem in our community. 49% of children with autism will wander off in some capacity. This is eight times the rate of typically developing children. There are several things you can do to help avert a tragedy. Your child may still wander. It can happen in the blink of an eye even to the most watchful parents. At least you can put some actions into place to prevent it or to find them quickly.
- Have a Family Wandering Emergency Plan in place. Make sure that anyone who takes care of your child knows it. Who calls 911? Who starts checking bodies of water immediately? Who calls the first person on the list to start a search party? All this needs to be worked out in a plan beforehand.
- National Autism Association has the Big Red Safety Box. The box essentially includes door alarms to alert you that your child is trying to leave, stop sign stickers for the doors to visually remind your child to stop , a RoadiD to identify your child in case he wanders and car stickers to alert emergency personnel that your child has autism. You can download the booklet included. They have grants available on a limited basis for a limited time. If you can , this would be a great donation for a family with an eloper or bolter.
- GPS tracking devices are also an option. You attach it to your child either through wearing a bracelet or onto their clothing. For a monthly fee, you can track your child’s whereabouts by satellite. AngelSense is one such company that provides this service.
An added benefit of the gps system is that you can encourage independence while also knowing where your child is at all times. This can be a crucial safety step in the ongoing process of encouraging independence.
You can check with your local law enforcement agencies to see if they have any programs in place like Project Lifesaver or SafetyNet by Lojack. These programs are not available in all locations. If you want to gps your child , which I highly recommend, then AngelSense is your best option at the moment.
There are grants available for these programs as well. Do a bit of research to find one in your area. A few to look at would be the Byrne Grant or the Jag Grant. Medicaid may also pick up the fee for the tracking device and monthly fee if you can convince your doctor to write a prescription for it.
These children’s safety is far more important than a silly lion dying in Africa. I urge you to call your Congressman to encourage passage of Avonte’s law in honor of Avonte Oquendo who wandered out of his school in NYC and drowned. It would help to put tracking devices on all children with autism as well as educate law enforcement on how to incorporate it into the search. It’s the least we can do for this vulnerable population.