SCHOOL STAFF AND ADMINISTRATORS
Autism now affects 1 in 88 individuals (1 in 50
students), and according to a 2012 study published in
Pediatrics, almost half are prone to wandering away
from a safe environment such as school or home.
Individuals with autism are often attracted to water,
yet have little to no sense of danger. Drowning is a
leading cause of death in children with autism.
Wandering is the tendency for an individual to try to
leave the safety of a responsible personís care or a
safe area, which can result in potential harm or injury.
This might include running off from adults at school or
in the community, leaving the classroom without
permission, or leaving the house when the family is not
looking. This behavior is considered common and
short-lived in toddlers, but it may persist or re-emerge
in children and adults with autism. Children with autism
have challenges with social and communication skills and
safety awareness. This makes wandering a potentially
Wandering may also be referred to as: Elopement;
Bolting; Fleeing; Running.
Goal-directed wandering: wandering with the
purpose of getting to, or away from, something
Bolting/Fleeing: the act of suddenly running or bolting,
usually to quickly get away from something
Drowning; Dehydration; Heat Stroke; Hypothermia; Traffic
Injuries; Falls; Physical Restraint; Encounters with
strangers; Encounters with law enforcement
- Nearly half of children with autism engage in
- Increased risks are associated with autism severity
- More than one third of children with autism who wander/elope are never or
rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number
- Half of families report they have never received advice or guidance about
elopement from a professional
- Accidental drowning accounts for approximately 90% of lethal outcomes
SIMPLE TOOLS FOR SCHOOLS
- Door & Window Chimes: very inexpensive & effective. Available at most Radio
Shack and Walmart Stores
- Simple Stop Signs: teachers/aides can print and adhere stop signs to doors and
windows as a visual prompt
- Social Stories: create social stories that teach students with autism to stay
with a trusted adult
- Color-coded Prompts: use specific objects or tools to demonstrate when itís
outside time versus inside time. For example, when the teacher is wearing a
green wristband, then itís okay to go outside.
STEPS TO PREVENT WANDERING
- Ensure close adult supervision of any student with a cognitive impairment.
- Ensure proper architectural barriers around school grounds are in place.
- For any at-risk child, conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment to help
pinpoint underlying reasons for wandering/bolting and develop a Behavioral
Intervention Plan to address these reasons.
- Ensure all school staff is familiar with the risks of autism-related wandering
and are trained to respond properly in the event of a wandering emergency.
- Ensure school staff follows proper protocol in keeping gates and doors closed
and school grounds secure.
- Being aware, and ensure 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 safety.
- For a student who demonstrates bolting behaviors due to fear or stress, etc.,
assign a common area ďsafe placeĒ they can run to, such as the library, so they
stay within the building and can be easily found. No seclusion rooms, closets,
etc., as these can be dangerous, inhumane, and actually cause bolting behaviors.
- Assign a 1:1 aide to students with autism who are especially prone to
- Ensure all emergency response protocols are up to date and enforced.
STEPS TO RESPOND TO WANDERING
- Always call 911 immediately if a student is missing.
- Always search areas that pose the highest threat first, such as nearby water.
- Immediately notify parents of wandering incidents, even if the incident seems
small or insignificant.
- Thoroughly assess any wandering incident, how it happened, and putting
measures in place to prevent reoccurrence.
Because students are often shifted to different classrooms for therapy sessions,
etc., itís important that those prone to wandering are never left unattended.
There are many risk and safety management organizations that offer training
programs for school staff members. Companies like
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.You can also help ensure your students' safety at home by sharing prevention and
safety resources with caregivers who have a child with autism.