Parents of children with autism

As a fellow parent of a child with autism, the most important thing we need to consider for our children is their safety.  Many parents of children affected by autism never receive basic safety training for their children's condition.    

One of the most common types of police calls involving those affected by autism is wandering from the safety of their own home.  Although I have personally dealt with both adults and juveniles with autism wandering from home, the majority of my experience has been with juveniles who wander from home.

Because children with autism almost always have a communication delay/deficit, it is very challenging to get basic information from them such as their name and address, especially in an emergency.  When someone with autism is approached by strangers or find themselves in an unfamiliar place, their fear and anxiety will increase.  When their fear and anxiety increase, their ability to communicate will decrease.  

According to data released in 2011 by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN):

  1. 49% of children with autism will wander from a safe environment (this is 4 times the rate of typical children)
  2. 1/3 of children with autism who wander from home are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address or phone number
  3. children with ASD are 8 times more likely to wander between the ages of 7 and 10 than their typical developing peers
  4. 50% of families with children who wandered from home reported that they never received advice/guidance about wandering from a professional.

Parents with children and/or adults with autism should do the following:

  1. Secure your home with some type of security system or door/window chimes to prevent escape.
  2. Consider a tracking device and/or ID bracelet.
  3. Teach your child to swim and cross the street safely.
  4. Let your neighbors know you have a child with autism.
  5. Alert your local police department so your address can be flagged.

When first responders are trained in recognizing autism and de-escalation techniques, any encounter with someone affected by autism will have a much more favorable outcome.  When programs are in place like the “Take me Home” and “A Child is Missing,” police will be able to better respond in an emergency to a child or adult with autism who has wondered off.   With the prevalence of autism increasing at an alarming rate, these types of calls are becoming much more common for law enforcement.