“Where’s your brother?” Oh, that question. That several-times-daily question.
My “disappearing boy” just has a way of… vanishing. In an instant—the blink of an eye—he can be five feet away one minute, and GONE the next.
He is 14 and although he is much better about it now, and I trust him not to take the hand of a stranger and go where ever he would lead, it is an ongoing concern. It seems like every week we hear of another Autistic child who has wandered off. Frantic families and news agencies show pictures of them everywhere, trying to ensure that anyone who spots the child will recognize him.
The thought just.Freaks.Me.OUT.
Let’s talk about safety.
When your child is very young, and nonverbal or unable to respond to her name when you call her, you have a big job. A constant, ongoing, watchful job. When our son was very small, he loved to go outside and look at the sky at night. He would lay down on our back patio and look up at the stars, often without us realizing he had gone outside.
When D1 was about 2 1/2, he took off outside in the snow, in footie pajamas, just watching the moon as he walked. We noticed he was gone after just a few minutes, but by the time our older kids found him, he had marched himself halfway across the field behind our house. We were all calling his name but he didn’t answer (as if I thought he would.) But we hoped he would. He wasn’t concerned at all and when we got him back inside and warmed up, he just wanted to go back out and look at the stars. It was a scary 10 minutes for me though!
The next day I purchased an appliance latch and put it on our sliding glass door, so he couldn’t get it open any more. Since they come in a 2-pack, I put the other one on our upright freezer, to prevent a different horror I still can’t think about. We also added padlocks to our side yard gates too, to give him one more obstacle.
10 Important Safety Measures for Kids on the Autism Spectrum:
1. Basic toddler proofing: toddler knobs on doors, baby gates, appliance latches, and outlet plugs
2. Magnetic locks for cabinets containing medicine, cleaning supplies, and other things you don’t want them in
3. Big Red Safety Boxes are available now through the National Autism Association. They’re free!
4. Get to know your neighbors, and be sure that they know to watch out for your child. It may be as simple as telling them “If she comes over or you see her go by, would you call me please?” I have an arrangement with the neighbor who lives behind us because my son loves to go play with her kids, but he forgets to tell me that’s where he’s going. When he arrives she asks him, “Does your mom know you’re here?” and if he says “No”, she has him call me.
5. Teach kids (who are able to understand) to come straight in the house if a stranger approaches them when they are outside.
6. Have your child wear an ID tag or ID bracelet, if possible.
7. Teach them the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touches.
8. Use a toddler leash/backpack when you’re out in public. Yes, you may get nasty looks and even remarks, but I shudder to think of the horrible feeling you’d have if you actually lost your child in a crowded mall.
9. Teach them their address and telephone number, and another emergency number too if possible.
10. If wandering is an ongoing issue, you can put a GPS tracker in your child’s jacket.
These are all basic common sense child safety, but with our special kiddos it becomes infinitely more important because we’re dealing with communication issues already.
Have you ever had your child disappear? What safety measures have you set up that you hadn’t for your neurotypical kids?