Once upon a time, everything around us used to function at a much slower pace. We didn't have all the obligations that we have multi-tasked into existence. Now our days are slammed-packed full of schedules for work, school and all sorts of doctor's appointments. That's not counting the scheduled & unscheduled trips to the grocery store, pharmacy or health food store for our families. And it's so very easy for us to get distracted with the new technology that we use around the clock to communicate with each other. When you add in an individual (child or adult) with special needs, the chances of that individual wandering off increase dangerously.
Wandering is not a subject to be taken lightly, by any means. It happens more often than just the particular instances we might hear about through the media, facebook or twitter. Every time I hear about a child wandering, it makes me check in on my own young children, sometimes more than once, during the night. I immediately start sharing as many details as I possibly can about the missing child on various networks while praying for the child's safe return to their family.
Seriously, children and adults with the autism spectrum disorder are twice as likely to wander off, succumb to prolonged exposure and probable drowning. Individuals with ASD tend to wander because they are either looking to get closer to something of interest or away from something that is bothering them. A few examples of places they might be drawn to could be a neighbor's pool, signs they might possibly recognize that leads to a local amusement park or somewhere they have happy memories of spending time. Danger is constantly lurking around the corner, just waiting for victims.
Everyone loves family picnics or gatherings at the lake but, many times a child on the spectrum may want to escape an overload of sensory input or something that is agitating them. It is automatically assumed, that with all the people around, that the child or adult with autism would be safe. Clearly, it is impossible to guarantee that an unforeseen distraction won't provide the opportunity to an over-stimulated child or adult on the autism spectrum to wander off without notice. Wandering in children & adults with autism tends to increase in new, unfamiliar or unsecured environments such as visiting a friend's or relative's home. These situations may trigger wandering, as well as episodes of distress, meltdowns or certain anxieties in a child, or adult, with autism. Especially in warmer months, when it's natural to be and play outside.
In dealing with our son, we have found that having a particular person with him at all times works the best. It's like being on an assignment with the secret service, you're not allowed to leave your post until you have secured a replacement. That way there's never a question as to where he is. Most of the time, Nathan is right beside me, holding my hand, or at least within arms reach of one of us. If we are at home, he may be in his own room but, the front and backdoor deadbolts are always locked and I am constantly aware of what he is doing. His room is the one place where he can relax and have control of his surroundings.
I can't say that Nathan hasn't ever given us a scare. Almost four years ago, my daughter and oldest son had just spent the afternoon swimming in our above ground pool but, had forgotten to remove the ladder when they were finished. We had just walked around the corner to the side garage door for a few seconds when we heard that "splash"! Nathan had decided that he didn't want to wait until Daddy came home when we said he could swim. I have always had a rule where I would never take Vincent & Nathan swimming by myself, especially before they had learned to swim. Unfortunately, Nathan had already noticed the ladder and being way too young to understand how dangerous it was, had climbed up it, with his cardboard flip-book in his hand, and jumped in! I am so very thankful that we were nearby when Nathan decided to go swimming and that he had learned to tread water!! When his sister and I got to him, he had his head above water. He looked surprised at both what he had accomplished and that we were dragging him out of his impromptu dip in the pool. I hate to think what might have happened if we hadn't heard that "splash"and been able to pull him to safety when we did. That was an eye-opener for all of us that day. It didn't matter that the little cardboard book or the cell phone in my pocket had to be replaced, only that our precious 4 year old Nathan was alive!
Another instance of Nathan wandering, that I was not a directly involved in, was while he was at his elementary school. Out of loyalty and respect of everyone at our school, I will not being sharing specifics. Nathan had been in one of the portables for his scheduled lab time and, when it was over, had wandered around to the front of the building. Nathan had been trusted to return to his class and had gotten distracted by the great outdoors. Thanks to one of the school secretaries, she found him standing on the grass, under a shade tree, twenty yards from the front door of the school. The experience was one that our school doesn't want to have happen ever again. It was very terrifying to even think of him trying to walk the mile and a half home or him being picked up by a stranger! When I found an opportunity later that afternoon, without any unwanted distractions, I explained to Nathan the danger of a child going off anywhere on their own without an adult.
For more information about how we can all protect our children, please feel free to visit http://www.awaare.org/. There are many resources on that website, as well as others which have not been mentioned, that can be utilized to prepare, prevent and protect a child that might wander. Have a safe and wonderful July 4th with your family.