You may have heard the term “runner” or “bolter”, it’s a term we use for children that wander. Autistic people wander off for many different reasons. They may be seeking out sensory stimuli such as water. They could be running away from something. Or they could be trying to get to a place they love. It is important to have strategies in place for those are prone to wandering off.
A good idea is to keep a diary of when your child wanders as you may see a pattern of triggers that can be avoided in the future.
Here are 5 tips to help with children than wander:
It is important to teach your child about safety. Road safety is very important as lots of autistic people are not aware of the dangers of the road. Social Stories can really help when trying to explain road safety and other types of safety. It is also worthwhile teaching your child about stranger danger. This isn’t here to scare you but a child on their own becomes much more vulnerable. Many autistic people tend to gravitate towards the water when they wander so teaching them about water safety is also a good idea. Learning to swim would be a huge advantage.
There are many practical things you can put in place within your home. Keep doors and windows locked and all keys out of reach. Add extra locks that are high up and out of reach. Ensure your garden is enclosed and has a locked gate that cannot be reached. You can have alarms attached to your doors that sound when opened or use wind-chimes to alert you to this. You could set up cameras throughout your home (like baby monitors) so that you can always see where your child is and what they are doing.
Taking a wander out and about can be difficult. Here are some things you can put in place to make things a little easier. When going out dress your child in bright distinctive clothing to help spot them if they wander off. Take a picture of them on your phone that day to refer to if needed. You could buy or make your child an identification bracelet or tag with your contact details and any medical issues of note. You can even buy GPs watches! Reigns can be helpful as you can have full control of where your child walks when you are out and about in a busy environment. You could also use a buggy or wheelchair. A buggy or wheelchair can help keep your child safe and also give them a snug and comfortable place to sit whilst in busy places.
When you are out in the car it is important to remember to use your child locks. Even if your child has not tried to open the doors in the car it is an extra layer of protection that is worth using. There is also an amazing product called Hands On, which is a magnet that you pop on your car when you are getting your children out. You simply pop the magnet on the side of the car and say “Hands On” and the child puts their palm on the palm on the magnet until you say “Hands Off”. This is great to turn into a game and make more fun for your child.
Have A Plan
It is very important to have an emergency plan in place at all times. In your plan, you should include:
- Your child’s details including a photo and description.
- Any medical conditions your child has.
- Details on how to approach them if found by someone they don’t know.
- A list of places they may go to if they wander off.
- Contact details for these places.
- Your contact details.
- Details for the local police or significant people.
Once you have your plan share this with your local police, your child’s school, friends and neighbours. You could also share in places you visit regularly with your child.
Wandering is a huge safety concern for parents of autistic children. Whilst it can be difficult to stop a child from wandering off there are lots of things that you can put into place to help prevent it. We hope that these 5 tips to help with children that wander have given you some peace of mind.
Follow the tips above and stay vigilant. If you have any more great tip to help with wandering please let us know.
If you would like some more information on children that wander, why not check out this great podcast: