As parents of children with autism, we already know firsthand the many challenges associated with keeping our kids safe. The nature of our child’s disorder often presents a wide range of behaviors that can make their safety our fulltime job. Wandering/elopement, PICA, choking, water fixations, inability to communicate in an emergency, and general situational fearlessness mark a few of the many things we face (or simply worry about) on a daily basis.

The statistics from the National Autism Association speak for themselves:
• Approximately 48% of children with an ASD attempt to elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times higher than their unaffected siblings
• Two in three parents of elopers have experienced a traffic injury “close call”
• More than one-third of ASD children who wander/elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number

I know how easy it is to become consumed with debilitating fear every time your child is out of your sight. When my daughter, Jenna, was younger, I often felt powerless to protect her – or, to even be able to predict how she would react and respond in any given situation. Now, as she’s approaching 15 years old, I understand that while parents of children with autism have to be exceptionally vigilant at all times, we
do have resources and options available to support us in our efforts to keep them safe.

Create Your Safety Plan
Every family has their own safety routines for their child with autism. Over the years, my husband, Jonathan, and I have learned and implemented various tools, tips, and technologies into a cohesive safety plan for Jenna. For example, we know that every time we enter a room, we assess available exits and create a strategy that ensures Jenna is continuously monitored by one of us. We keep a window decal on Jenna’s side of the car that alerts first responders that Jenna is unable to communicate her needs in the event of an accident, and we take photos of her, almost daily, in case she wanders off and we need to tell responders what she was wearing.

Other useful resources we’ve incorporated into our safety routines include:

SafetyNet is a tracking device worn on your child’s ankle or wrist. Should a child wander off while wearing the tracker, police/fire department can quickly locate her.

We installed an active alarm system in our home that instantly alerts us whenever a door or window opens. The alarm enables us to respond quickly should Jenna wander off.

This app is excellent for children who have their own smartphone. As long as your child carries their phone, you’ll be able to easily pinpoint their location.

Car Locks
Keep those “kid safety locks” on at all times to ensure your child can’t open the car door while the vehicle is in motion. Yes, you will inevitably inadvertently lock your adult friends in your backseat at some point – they will forgive you.

Erin Program
Our town offers the Erin Program; a process created specifically for special needs families. Parents can submit information to help first responders in the event of an emergency. All personal information is securely
stored and not made public. Contact your local police or fire department to see if your town offers this program or something similar.

Most parents don’t realize they can have safety goals and emergency plans outlined in their child’s IEP. Always discuss your child’s specific needs with the school administration and SPED director to put a detailed plan in place.

No matter how many apps we download or strategies we implement, we will always worry about our children and their safety – as all parents do. However, for parents of children with autism, continuously tapping into
the resources available to us can deliver the much-needed peace of mind that we are doing everything we can to advocate for and protect our kids at all times.

The Parziale family has been connected to Northeast Arc’s Autism Support Center for many years. Susan Parziale is a professional organizer who also volunteers for several autism-related organizations. Susan and her family live in the North Shore area.