In our case management, families have reported their children with autism wandered even from safe environments. Most of the children who wandered were unable to communicate their name and/or home address.
Autism-related wandering is not because of inattentive parenting. Sadly, these parents of Autistic children had received little or no help or guidance on how to deal with the problem.
Children with autism go missing under a variety of circumstances. They may seek out small or enclosed spaces. They may wander toward places of special interest to them. Or they may try to escape overwhelming stimuli such as sights, sounds, surroundings or activities of others.
Track, trace and reunification efforts for a missing child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) presents unique and difficult challenges for families, law enforcement, first responders and search teams. The first step for all concerned parties is to understand the wandering patters of such children and eliminate possible triggers.
Here are a few special search protocols and checklists to help when looking for a missing child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD):
Ask yourself what type of wandering best describes your child/adult (goal-directed, non goal-directed, random, sudden runner, etc.)
Acknowledge what triggers may make your child/adult wander off or leave quickly.
Implement strategies at home to avoid known triggers. Work on calming methods to help your child/adult cope with the triggers and provide other ways to handle the trigger besides running, etc.
Understand if your child has a goal (Are they trying to get to water? Train tracks? Nearby merry-go-round?)
Address known goals; allow supplemental objects within safe environment; allow child to explore obsessions under safe supervision in safe environment (for example, if your child’s goal is to get to water, offer a set time for water play each day in your home under close adult supervision).
Understand if your child is trying to get away from something (Is there too much noise? Is there too much commotion? Is there boredom?) so that it may be addressed.
Understand the time of day. Know if your child/adult tends to wander during the night or in the day time
Obtain relevant social stories and go through them with your child. Find story books/ flash cards/ videos as appropriate to your child’s Autism Spectrum Disorder that talk about wandering.
Document fascinations and share with first-responders, school, relatives, and friends; communicate with your child and all of those involved with your child’s daily activities.