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by Cari Ansbro

​Wandering is a common problem in the autism community, and all too often it results in tragedy.  Up to half of all people with autism are prone to wandering, also referred to as elopement.

Children and adults with autism may wander for various reasons.  But the two most common motivations for wandering are to get to something, or get away from something.  And wanderers can be pretty clever about taking advantage of even the smallest lapse in supervision, making the issue that much more difficult.

Whatever the cause of their impulse to wander, the dangers they face are very real.  Many situations wanderers can find themselves in have the potential to turn out very badly, even fatally.  These include, but are not limited to getting hit by a car, drowning (most people with autism are drawn to water), falling, getting lost, dehydrated, abducted, or harmed by others.  If the person in question lacks the ability to ask for help, the danger multiplies.

I'd say I don't mean to scare you, but the facts are pretty grim.  And the parent of a wanderer is bound to be scared.  Even the most vigilant parent isn't able to watch 24 hours a day.  It's important that other responsible adults are aware of the situation and take it seriously.  Otherwise, they can let you down.

Some steps you can take to minimize wandering/ elopement opportunities at home are:

  1. Putting locks on your windows.
  2. Double dead bolts on your exterior doors.
  3. Alarms on your doors and windows.
  4. Alerting your neighbors so that they know to watch for your wanderer.
  5. Making sure your nearest police station has your information and a current picture of your loved one. 
  6. Putting ID tags on their shoes and in their clothes.
  7. Some people even have their loved one micro chipped so that they can be identified electronically if they're found.

The more information you have, the better prepared you can be when something happens.  The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education collective (AWAARE) has some excellent information and tips on wandering and what do if your loved one runs off.  A good place to start would be here and here

Additionally, Project Lifesaver International is a search and rescue organization which works with public safety agencies toward the goal of building awareness of "at risk" groups (those with autism, dementia, and other cognitive conditions), teaching search and rescue techniques, and implementing the use of personal tracking technology to keep your loved one safe.  For more information, you can visit their informative website here.

Stay safe!

The Autism Website

Information on Autism Related Wandering