Preventing Wandering: Resources for Parents and First Responders

A 2012 study confirmed what many parents know well: Wandering by children with autism is common, dangerous and puts tremendous stress on families.  

Amid a frightening number of wandering cases of children with autism this summer – many of them fatal – Autism Speaks wants to remind families of the resources available and the advice to follow to keep your children safe. To report an active case of wandering click here.

6 Tips to Help Prevent Wandering and Wandering-Related Tragedies
A Digital Guide for Caregivers: Learning to Prevent Wandering
A Digital Resource for First Responders: Finding a Missing Child with Autism
Autism Safety Project
Autism Safety Resources and Products
Tips from Our Community
Other Wandering-Related Resources

Six Tips to Help Prevent Wandering and Wandering-Related Tragedies

From AWAARE: Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education Coalition

1. Secure Your Home
Consider contacting a professional locksmith, security company or home improvement professional to promote safety and prevention in your home. You may find it is necessary to prevent your loved one from slipping away unnoticed by installing secure dead bolt locks that require keys on both sides, a home security alarm system, inexpensive battery-operated alarms on doors, placing hook and eye locks on all doors above your child's reach, fencing your yard, adhering printable STOP SIGNS to doors, windows and other exits, etc.

2. Consider a Tracking Device
Check with local law enforcement for Project Lifesaver or LoJak SafetyNet services. These tracking devices are worn on the wrist or ankle and locate the individual through radio frequency. Various GPS tracking systems are also available.

3. Consider an ID Bracelet
Medical ID bracelets will include your name, telephone number and other important information. They may also state that your child has autism and is non-verbal if applicable. If your child will not wear a bracelet or necklace, consider a temporary tattoo with your contact information. 

4. Teach Your Child to Swim
Swimming lessons for children with special needs are available at many YMCA locations. The final lesson should be with clothes on. Remember: teaching your child how to swim does not mean your child is safe in water. If you own a pool, fence it and if neighbors have pools, let them know of these safety precautions and your child's tendency to wander. Remove all toys or items of interest from the pool when not in use.

5. Alert Your Neighbors
It is recommended that caregivers plan a brief visit with neighbors to introduce their loved or provide a photograph. Knowing your neighbors can help reduce the risks associated with wandering. See the caregiver tool kit below for resources to use to alert them. 

6. Alert First Responders
Providing first responders with key information before an incident occurs may improve response. Informational handouts should include all pertinent information and be copied and carried with caregivers at all times. Circulate the handout to family, neighbors, friends and co-workers, as well as first responders. See the tool kits below for resources to use to alert them. 

Big Red Safety Tool Kit: A Digital Guide for Caregivers    

Be REDy to Prevent Wandering

This tool kit from the National Autism Association is designed to provide direct aid and support to families of children with autism at risk. Download the kit here!

The kit contains the following resources:

Caregiver Checklist Tool
Family Wandering Emergency Plan
Autism Elopement Alert Form
Swimming Lessons Tool
Root-Cause Scenarios and Strategies
Stop Sign Prompts
Social Stories
Caregiver Log
Sample Wandering Prevention IEP Letter
Tracking Technology Information (Steps to Take, About, Types)
General Awareness Letter
Five Affordable Safety Tools
Resources One-sheeter

Big Red Safety Tool Kit: A Digital Resource for First Responders

Be REDy to Find A Missing Child with Autism

This tool kit from the National Autism Association is designed to help first responders understand autism and become better equiped to respond in an emergency situation involving an individual on the spectrum. Download the kit here!

The kit contains the following resources:

Autism Overview/Autism Behaviors
Autism and Wandering Information
First Responder Checklist
First Responder Tips
First Responder Notification Form
Guidelines for Missing Persons with Special Needs (NCMEC)

AWAARE: The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education Coalition

The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education (AWAARE) Collaboration is a working group of six national non-profit autism organizations whose mission is to prevent autism-related wandering incidents and deaths. The AWAARE Collaboration works to prevent wandering incidents and wandering-related deaths within the autism community through the use of collective organizational resources, and by establishing and monitoring objectives, guidelines, policies, and tools that promote awareness, education, prevention and safety.

Click here to learn more about and for resources and tools from AWAARE.

Autism Safety Project

Safety is a critical part of all of our lives, whether we are at home or out in the community, alone or with loved ones. Being aware of our surroundings and taking precautions to stay safe is even more important for individuals with autism and their families.

The Autism Speaks Autism Safety Project is designed to provide families affected by autism with tips, information, expert advice and resources so that everyone in our community can stay out of harm's way. Sections include: safety in the community, safety in the home, abuse, information for first responders and more. 

Click here to visit the Autism Safety Project web portal.

Autism Safety Resources and Products

The Autism Speaks website contains a comprehensive list of safety resources, as well as safety products recommended to us by the community to help keep individuals on the spectrum safe in a variety of situations. 

Tips from Our Community

We reached out to the Autism Speaks community and asked for tips and tools used to prevent wandering. We got some great feedback and wanted to share it with everyone!

For example, Olivia said "Look at things from the child’s sneakiest perspective."

Click here to read the tips.

Other Wandering-Related Resources

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® is the leading nonprofit organization in the U.S. working with law enforcement, families and the professionals who serve them on issues related to missing and sexually exploited children. As part of its Congressional authorization, NCMEC has created a unique public and private partnership to build a coordinated, national response to the problem of missing and sexually exploited children, establish a missing children hotline and serve as the national clearinghouse for information related to these issues.
Resources for Families from NCMEC
Resources for Law Enforcement from NCMEC

Missing and Abducted Children: A Law Enforcement Guide to Case Investigation and Program Management
From the NCMEC, this guide outlines recommended practices for law enforcement investigating missing child cases and was authored by a team of professionals from local, state and federal agencies. It describes a recommended step-by-step investigative process and offers a wealth of valuable resources to assist with missing and abducted children cases.

A Child is Missing
A Child Is Missing (ACIM) is devoted to assisting law enforcement in the search and early safe recovery efforts of children, the elderly (often with Alzheimer's), disabled persons and college students via a rapid-response neighborhood alert program utilizing high-tech telephony systems.