Preparedness for Individuals Who Tend to Wander or Flee

February 23, 2012 Prism Newsletter
By Amy Goodman

When winter comes, people often try to prepare themselves for the cold weather, snow, and any potential emergencies that can go along with bad weather. Even though the season encourages us to pack survival materials into our cars in case we get stuck in a snowdrift or pack extra tissues in our pockets for colds from temperature changes, it is important to remember emergencies may occur at any time. One emergency situation that should always be a consideration is preparedness to help ensure the safety and security of individuals who tend to wander, flee, or run. Though people often think of wandering as something that occurs during the summer, wandering can occur at any time of the year.

According to a survey conducted by the Interactive Autism Network Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, nearly half of all children with autism wander, and 25 percent of parents responded that the child went missing long enough to cause a significant safety concern. This statistic is concerning because people with Autism Spectrum Disorder who wander tend to have a higher risk of injury, trauma or death. About 66 percent of respondents to this survey said that their child had a “close call” with traffic-related injuries and 32 percent of parents said that they had a close call with a possible drowning.

Because of the higher risk of injury, trauma and death associated with wandering, it is important for loved ones of people with autism and other developmental disabilities to prepare for and plan for the possibility that your loved one may wander.

Some suggestions for planning include:

  • Securing your home with locks on exterior doors and interior doors and cabinets and/or with home security alarms;
  • Considering purchasing a tracking device that can locate individuals or ID bracelets that include important contact and medical information about your loved one;
  • Using a visual sign, like a stop sign on doors, to communicate to the person fleeing that they should stop;
  • Using social stories, schedules, modeling, signs, and other forms of teaching to help your loved one understand and know how to be safe;
  • Giving your neighbors your contact information, and explaining a loved one’s tendency to wander so that neighbors can assist in monitoring  your loved one; and
  • Providing first responders with information before a wandering incident occurs so that they may be aware of any medical, sensory, or dietary issues as well as your loved one’s likes and dislikes.

While these suggestions may seem drastic, wandering, fleeing, or running can occur at any time and any place; so, it is important have a comprehensive plan in order to avoid the possibility for your loved one to have trauma or injury as a result of wandering.

For more information and suggestions on wandering or fleeing, please visit:

Amy Goodman is the Co-Director of the Autism NOW Center.

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