By Gary Weitzen, a dad who’s been there, done that, and bought the tee shirt
Nearly half of all individuals with autism wander (elope), often ending in tragic results. Traveling for the holidays or having family over your house changes your child’s routine, which can lead to an increase in wandering. All children are at risk regardless of where they are on the spectrum. These are some specific things we can do to help reduce the risk and increase the safety of these children:
Apply Peel and Stick Stop Signs to all doors leading outside. These can be purchased on Amazon or printed on paper from Google images and then taped to the doors. Go over what the stop signs mean with your child. I had these on all of my exterior doors for years.
Never buy any discount alarm or safety items; you will be putting your child’s life at risk. POAC Autism Services always recommends GE products, which are available everywhere. You can get a GE Security Alarm kit with keypad and a 120-decibel alarm for one door and three independent window/door alarms for under $20. No tools are required to install. I recommend having them on every door and window from which your child may exit.
My son was a “runner” when he was younger and got out of our house on several occasions. Going to family holiday dinners with a ton of people coming and going filled us with dread. So my wife and I would “tag team parent,” one of us would be by our son at all times. If he moved to another room, one of us was right by his side. Years later–with the help of good teaching -his skills have increased and we no longer need to do this. But when he was young, it was a necessity.
If you’re staying in a hotel room, I recommend having a GE Door Stop Alarm. These are available on Amazon for under $15. All hotel room doors open in. This device simply slides under the door and if the door is opened a 120-decibel alarm will trigger. I also recommend using the peel and stick decals mentioned above.
Every parent of a child with ASD should consider what technology is available to help keep their child safe. Project Lifesaver is a waterproof bracelet that the individual wears 24 hours a day. If you discover that your child is missing, call 911 and notify the dispatcher that you are on Project Lifesaver. A trained team then responds to the child’s last known location. Over the past 15 years, the success rate for this program is 100%. There are other devices like AngelSense, a special needs GPS with voice monitoring, which attaches to your child’s clothing. Please note that you should never purchase a device from overseas. POAC Autism Services field tests every known device and we find that inexpensive devices (usually available on Amazon from China and other countries) are of poor quality and would in fact put your child’s life at risk.
Use your child’s smartphone if he or she is more independent and able to carry one. Every smartphone has free and fee-based apps to locate their phone. Every phone carrier also has Family Locater Services for approximately $10 a month. This is a service that not only allows you to locate the phone, but will also text or email you when family members leave or arrive at locations that you choose. So you can set up an electronic geo zone at Grandma’s and get a text when your child’s phone leaves the area you set up.
Prepare a flyer with a picture and detailed information about your child, which can be used if your child does go missing. I have a flyer saved on my phone that can be sent directly to law enforcement at a moment’s notice. It’s difficult to think about, but this will save valuable time if the situation ever arises.
Take a picture on your phone of your child every time you go somewhere. This way you will have a current picture of your child and of what he or she is wearing. This is invaluable in a search situation.
The number one cause of death for children with autism is drowning. If you discover your child is missing, search every body of water (lakes, pools, swamps, retention basins) immediately.
There is no perfect device or strategy that will guarantee the well-being of your loved one, but so much can be done to increase their safety.
We wish everyone a happy and safe holiday and hope to see you at one of our upcoming free trainings and events. Your friends at POAC Autism Services.