I recently read an article on the Interactive Autism Network website that discussed how half of people with autism will bolt from places. Bolting is dangerous safety issue that can cause stress for families.  The stress pierces the heart at several angles.  The most obvious concern is: where did my child go and will they find their way back?  Another concern is:  Will he do this again?  Yet another concern:  What if a stranger picks him up?  And another concern:  Did I tell enough neighbors about my child so that in case this happens again, they can bring him back to the house?

The report I read indicated that a greater number of children with ASD wandered when they were under 10.  The report also indicated that less non-asd siblings wandered out of their houses.  The number of children who wandered decreased over time.  The most interesting part of the report was the graph that showed the parent’s perception of their child’s state of mind when they wandered.  Most parents felt that their child was in a positive state of mind.  Very few parents felt that the child was agitated or sad when then wandered.

What Can Be Done To HelpWandering www.autismmom.net

  1.  Talk to your child about his or her wandering.  Explain that if they wander too far it will be difficult to find them.  Explain that it scares you.

  2. Talk to your neighbors about your child and his tendency to wander. Ask them to bring him back to the house if they ever see him or her wander alone again.

  3.  Buy a “medical-alert” necklace or bracelet. There are many options available that will custom engrave the necklace with the name address and phone number for the child.  There are necklaces of every shape, size and color.  There are bracelets made of plastic, metal or cloth (or a combination).  Depending on your child’s sensory sensitivities, you can find the right ID necklace or bracelet online.  Our favorite source is American Medical ID.

  4.  Write a social story about wandering.  Be sure to explain that wandering from the house isn’t ok.  Offer a replacement behavior, for example: “When I feel like wandering, I will ask an adult to go on a walk with me. If they don’t have time, I will find something to do at home.”

  5.  If you have a behaviorist, talk to them about the wandering.  See if they have any suggestions to deal with this stressful problem.

  6.  Communicate with your spouse or other care giver, where the children are at all times.  If they seem too quiet, it is often to good to be true.  Keep on high alert constantly.

Our Story

On a beautiful spring day last year, I was all suited up for a jog.  I had my jogging shorts, running shoes and sweat wicking shirt on.  I had programed my iPhone full of music I loved.  As I left the house, I said goodbye to my sons and husband.  The only problem was that D followed me out into the garage:  He wanted to go on a jog, too.  I told him that I was going alone and to go back in the house.  I plugged my earphones in and started jogging up the street.

It wasn’t long before we discovered I had a follower.  I walked him back to the house and told him to go inside.  This is where I made my first mistake.  I should have walked him in the house and told my husband that he wasn’t invited on the jog.  Instead, I assumed that he went back in the house.  Well, he didn’t go back in the house.

When we asked him about it later, D told us that he was jogging with me.  I, however, have no recollection of having a jogging buddy. When I got home, D was sitting on the couch(red faced and still panting) with my husband who asked me where “we had gone jogging.  I told him that “we” didn’t go jogging.  It wasn’t long before we figured out that D had left the house and run nearly a mile away from home and back completely by himself. We also realized that he had to cross several streets unassisted. Thank goodness that child has an incredible sense of direction.  The whole incident shook us up pretty good.  We promptly purchased an ID tag in case he ever tried “running” again.

A couple of weeks ago, the runner struck again.  My husband had gone on a walk with our youngest son.  D wanted to go with them.  I assumed that he was going with my husband.  My husband assumed he was staying home.  About 2 blocks later, he heard somebody shuffling behind and found D trailing behind.  D hadn’t asked me permission and hadn’t told his dad that he was going. He just ran off by himself.

Each time it happened, that fear of… what might have happened crept into our minds.  Thank goodness we live in a nice neighborhood with understanding people.  Things ended up fine but the families who deal with this on a more frequent basis must be stressed out.

If you want to read more about wandering you can check out the report at: http://www.iancommunity.org/cs/ian_research_reports/ian_research_report_elopement