Autism, now affecting an estimated 1 in 88 children, is
a diagnosis that represents many symptoms, some of which
can lead to serious health and safety risks, even death.
2008, Danish researchers found that the mortality rate
among the autism population is twice as high as the
general population. In 2001, a California research team
attributed elevated death rates in large part to
drowning. Drowning, prolonged exposure, and other
wandering-related factors remain among the top causes of
death within the autism population.
Currently, no estimates exist and no formal methods are
in place to track how many children and adults wander
per year, but in a 2007 online poll through the National
Autism Association, 92% of parents reported that their
child/ren with autism have a tendency to wander.
education professional, itís important to familiarize
yourself with the dangers of autism-related wandering,
and how it may be prevented within your school. Key
elements in preventing autism elopement include:
Ensuring close adult supervision of any student with
a cognitive impairment.
Ensuring proper architectural barriers around school
grounds are in place to prevent wandering.
Ensuring all school staff is familiar with the risks
of autism-related wandering and are trained to
respond properly in the event of a wandering
Ensuring school staff follows proper protocol in
keeping gates and doors closed and school grounds
Immediately notifying parents of wandering
incidents, even if the incident seems small or
Thoroughly assessing any wandering incident, how it
happened, and putting measures in place to prevent
Being aware, and ensuring school staff is aware, of
any known triggers that could prompt fleeing in any
child (loud noises, meltdowns, etc.) and working to
prevent and/or appropriately respond to these
episodes in a manner that ensures the childís
Assigning a 1:1 aide to students with autism who are
especially prone to wandering.
Ensuring all emergency response protocols are up to
date and enforced.
Always calling 911 if a child is missing.
have been cases in the past where school staff has tried
to locate the child themselves before calling
authorities. Because children with autism are often
attracted to water and have little to no sense of
danger, school staff should never wait to call 911.
Because your students are often shifted to different
classrooms for therapy sessions, etc., itís important
that those prone to wandering never be left unattended.
keep in mind that even the smallest wandering episode
can signal a strong warning for future incidents. It
only takes one time for a child to end up in a deadly
situation. If a child has wandered within the building
or only got outside for just a second, the parents
should be informed so the incident can be addressed to
prevent future incidents. Failure to address known
wandering tendencies and/or escape patterns could lead
to a much more serious incident.
are many risk and safety management organizations that
offer training programs for school staff members.
Crisis Prevention Institute
can be a valuable resource for schools and daycares in
need of safety training.
Children with autism are especially vulnerable in the
warmer months, and all exterior doors and gates should
remain closed. All summer day camp settings should
maintain close adult supervision, strong security
measures and have proper emergency protocols in place.
can also help ensure your students' safety at home by
sharing prevention and safety
with caregivers who have a child with autism.
see recent articles about autism-related wandering,