Autism Spectrum problems can sometimes include wandering.  The news occasionally has a story about a child with autism who wandered away from home or school, getting a community search party and emergency personnel to fan out and try and find the child.  “Wandering” may sound benign, but it can be a matter of life or death.   Since the greatest danger to a wandering child is drowning, be especially alert around water.  If a child is missing, search water first.   This includes swimming pools even if they have a covering. We encourage parents to have swimming and CPR skills.

It’s not clear yet what causes wandering.  In first person accounts by people with autism, they may report that their legs began walking, and they were not really thinking through what might happen as a consequence.  Or they may have bolted from a situation that caused fear or overwhelming emotion.  Or conversely, have been drawn by something that interested them such as rivers, traffic, or trains.  Whatever the reasons, you’ll probably find the two checklists below helpful.  Both are from the National Autism Association toolkits on how to prevent a person with autism from wandering off and how to find them if they have.  To learn more about controlling the dangers of wandering in the autism community, visit: http://www.awaare.org/ .  Both toolkits can be downloaded in PDF format from that site.

Wandering Checklist for parents and others who care for a child with Autism spectrum difficulties from the toolkit:

______ I have secured my home

______ I’ve identified reasons why my child wanders and am teaching my child about the dangers

______  I have enrolled my child into swimming lessons (YMCA listing of special needs lessons listed at http://nationalautismassociation.org/resources/autism-safety-facts/swimming-instructions/ )

______  I have looked into tracking devices

______  I have alerted my trusted neighbors

______  I have alerted my local first responders about my child, nearby water

sources, and reverse 911 (free for law enforcement – it enables them to call many phones in a given area at once) and http://www.achildismissing.org/

______  I have talked to my child’s doctor about the wandering diagnostic code

V40.31 (should only be used if necessary)

______  I have obtained a wearable ID for my child that contains all of my

contact information

______   I have completed my family wandering emergency plan.  You can find this on the

front page of www.awaare.org

______   I will initiate a “tag, you’re it” system during family gatherings, times of

commotion or transition, to designate a person to specifically watch my child

______   I will monitor any changes in my home’s security, especially when warmer

weather or seasonal transitions affect doors and windows

______  I will remain on high alert after moving to a new home, on summer holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, & during visits to friends or family’s homes, public places, parks, other non-home settings

______  I have addressed wandering at school, summer camp, and other external settings

______  I continue to reassess as my child grows and/or develops new interests and abilities


Questions emergency personnel may ask when searching for a child who has wandered away, from the toolkit:

First obtain a full description of the child including height, weight,

hair color, and clothing worn. Then ask

[ ] Is the child wearing or carrying any tracking technology device? If so, which one and how is location information accessed?

[ ] Is the child attracted to water? If so, can the child swim?

[ ] Is the child attracted to active roadways/highways?

[ ] Does the child have a fascination with vehicles such as trains, heavy equipment, airplanes, or fire trucks?

[ ] Has the child wandered away before? If so, where was he or she found?

[ ] Does the child have a sibling with special needs? If so, has that sibling wandered

away before? If so, where was the sibling found?

[ ] Where does the child like to go? Does the child have a favorite place?

[ ] Does the verbal child know his or her parents’ names, home address, and phone number?

[ ] Is the child nonverbal? How will the child likely react to his or her name being called?

[ ] Will the child respond to a particular voice such as that of his or her mother,

father, other relative, caregiver, or family friend?

[ ] Does the child have a favorite song, toy, or character? If so, what or who is it?

[ ] Does the child have any specific dislikes, fears, or behavioral triggers?

[ ] How might the child react to sirens, helicopters, airplanes, search dogs, people

in uniform, or those participating in a search team?

[ ] How does the child respond to pain or injury?

[ ] What is the child’s response to being touched?

[ ] Does the child wear a medical ID tag?

[ ] Does the child have any sensory, medical, or dietary issues and requirements?

[ ] Does the child rely on any life-sustaining medication?

[ ] Does the child become upset easily? If so, what methods are used to calm him or her?