How to Help Children with Autism Stay Safe at Home
As parents of toddlers and young children, we try to have eyes on our children constantly, but let’s face it, it’s not possible every minute of the day. And sometimes, a minute is all it takes for these clever “escape artists.” The thought of a child bolting and wandering the streets alone is a frightening, yet very real worry for many families impacted by autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Thankfully, there are a number of safety measures families can set in place to lessen the chance of children leaving the home unaccompanied, both at night and during waking hours. To give parents some peace of mind, Hopebridge BCBA Lynette Rorer from our autism therapy center in Bloomington, Indiana provided us with actionable tips for keeping children safe inside the home.
Hopebridge Bloomington BCBA Lynette Rorer Shares “5 Ways to Prevent Your Child from Wandering Out of the House”
- Understand what triggers your child’s wandering behavior.
While some kids just love to run, many children with autism who are prone to wandering take off for one of two key reasons. Some elope to escape an uncomfortable situation, such as loud noises or crowds of people. Others wander in an attempt to reach somewhere or something of interest, such as a playground, train station or sign featuring something they enjoy. By determining the reasoning behind a child’s elopement, parents are better equipped to notice and minimize potentially challenging situations by stopping them before they start.
- Utilize ABA therapy to build communication and behavior skills.
When it comes to wandering, one of the best tools parents can arm themselves – and their children – with is applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy). At therapy centers like Hopebridge, Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) create personalized plans to build skills that train compliance with instructions such as, “come here,” “stop” and “wait.” Compliance with these instructions competes with the behavior of eloping. Giving children the skills and tools to communicate their wants and needs can also help cut down these instances, so they can tell parents what they want rather than taking off. Additionally, ABA practitioners can work one on one with parents to teach them how to manage their children’s behavior, which is ideal in cases with wandering since it presents a safety challenge. Behavior change controlled by instructors at the center does not always generalize to the home, community and the parents, so parent training can enhance its effectiveness at home and promote that generalization.
- Safely secure your home.
It is fairly standard to lock doors at night and when we’re out of the house, but for homes of children who wander, locks should be in place all hours of the day. Adding an extra, out-of-reach deadbolt at the top of exit doors is a simple, low-cost preventative step that will make it more difficult for little ones to leave the house without supervision. Once these are in place, stress to everyone who comes in and out (siblings, grandparents, babysitters, etc.) the importance of keeping the doors locked at all times. If there is a body of water nearby your home, such as a lake or neighbor’s pool, locked gates can be life-savers.
A video-based baby monitor (no matter how old the child is) can alert parents to a potential elopement during the night.
- Install a wandering alert system.
Locks are a huge aid, but are not fail-safe, so they should be accompanied by other layers of protection. Many security systems and home alarms offer the option to sound a chime or beeping noise when doors or windows open, which can alert you to an unplanned exit. This can be a great option for the home overall, but similar precautions inside the home can also be beneficial, especially in the late-night hours. For instance, a video-based baby monitor (no matter how old the child is) can alert parents to a potential elopement during the night, as parents can use it to view or hear whether the kiddo is awake. Additionally, setting up an alarm specifically for a bedroom to signal the child’s door opening should wake the parents if the video monitor fails to do so.
- Be ready with an in-case-of-emergency plan.
Even with all the proper precautions in place, there is a chance your kiddo will still find a way out of the house, so be proactive in creating a response and rescue plan. From getting to know your neighbors to having identifying information on hand to utilizing GPS tracking devices, there are a number of ways families can prepare themselves for a worst-case scenario. In another Hopebridge blog post, Indianapolis Fire Department Chief of Special Operations Kevin C. Jones provided us extra tips on how to best work with first responders in case of emergency, plus you’ll find a downloadable sheet so you can have your child’s information on hand and ready to go.
These tools and techniques can be life-saving, as one of our families from the Hopebridge Mason center experienced, which you can read about in our “super parents” post. By layering several of these strategies in place, they not only likely reduced the number of wandering occurrences, but were also able to react quickly to turn a scary situation into a safe rescue.
Is someone in your family a “runner” who could benefit from these tips? We want to help. Reach out to us to talk about the center-based autism therapy program at Hopebridge and how we can customize a plan for your child to assist in keeping him or her safer, while also setting the stage for a brighter future.
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