Safety is a critical part of all of our lives, whether we are at home or out in the community, alone or with loved ones. Being aware of our surroundings and taking precautions to stay safe is even more important for individuals with autism and their families. The Autism Safety Project is designed to provide families affected by autism with tips, information, expert advice and resources so that everyone in our community can stay out of harm’s way.
Since we have launched the updated Autism Safety Project this week we wanted to know your best tips and ideas about teaching safety to your family and friends.
In this week’s episode ‘Missing‘ of NBC‘s Parenthood, Max’s plans to go to the museum are ruined because both Kristina and Adam have commitments with work. Haddy is left to watch Max, but is involved with a school project. When Haddie is immersed in work and not being vigilant, Max leaves and tries to find his way to the museum.
Has your child ever gone missing? How have you reacted? Do you have protocol in place if a situation like this occurs?
The Experts Speak says,
“A missing child. Fear, panic, seemingly hundreds of phone calls, 911 and a police car outside. Now add Asperger’s to the mix.
In this episode of Parenthood, Max gets tired of waiting for his museum visit, accuses his family of breaking their promises, and decides to take matters into his own hands. So he sets out to go to the museum by himself, sending his entire family into full-blown panic mode. It’s scary enough for any child to be missing, but when you know the child has Asperger’s, you also know the child doesn’t have the usual respect for strangers or fear of danger that protects most kids.
Every year, children with autism spectrum disorders go missing from their families. Most are returned safely. Unfortunately, some are not, and the worst imaginable happens. We read of these cases in the newspaper, and we know that another family is destroyed.”
Also check out, ‘Why Do Children with Autism Wander and Bolt from Safe Places?‘
This week we want to hear your family’s experiences teaching “traffic and pedestrian safety,” to your children with autism.
Many families have serious concerns about their children with autism and traffic dangers while walking to school, playing in the neighborhood, and doing everyday activities in your area. Let’s learn from each other by sharing what worked, or in some cases, didn’t work for your family.
How did you teach your child to be careful in and around traffic? Did you find any books, specific curriculum, or other resources helpful? Were there useful websites? What can you recommend to other families to help keep their child safe?
The first major study on runaway behavior among children with autism confirms that it is both common and extremely stressful for families. Yet relatively few families are receiving professional help or guidance. These insights are among the preliminary results of the IAN Research Report: Elopement and Wandering, a project of the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Interactive Autism Network (IAN) funded by Autism Speaks, the Autism Science Foundation, and the Autism Research Institute. For more, see our news report on the Autism Speaks Science page. And please leave us a comment about your experience.
This is a guest post by Lori McIlwain who has a son with autism.
If I could have made Connor a miniature replica of every highway exit sign in the state of North Carolina, I would have. He knows them all by heart. Realistically, I could only create a few particular favorites that he often begged to see. Driving him to those exits down Interstate 40 became the equivalent of going out for ice cream, and our days were filled with drawing one exit sign after another as he nudged green crayons into our hands asking, “Exit 93A?” “Exit 289?” “Exit 2B?” Arts and crafts were never my thing, but for two weeks leading up to his 8th birthday, I committed to a daily ritual of wood glue, green paint and rectangular slats. I remember the day he opened them — his smile grew wide and steady as they peeked out from under the tissue paper. To him, those exit signs were the best gift ever. To us, a way to keep him safe.
It wasn’t long before when I received a call from a woman explaining that our seven-year-old son was sitting in a police cruiser after being found by a random stranger. Connor had wandered from the school grounds, and although no one could say how long he was gone, it was clear he made his way through some woods and onto a side street leading to a four-lane road. A local man was on his way to the post office when he spotted him. He put Connor in his car and called the police.
Connor told the officer he was “going on an adventure to touch his favorite exit sign.” He had wandered multiple times before from multiple schools, but this was the worst yet. Although we had become the squeaky-wheel parents that insisted on close supervision and tightened security, it obviously wasn’t enough.
The replicas did what we hoped they would. In fact, the more we fueled his obsession, the more it became old hat. Even so, we weren’t about to let our guard down. After that incident, we were able to enroll Connor into our county’s Project Lifesaver program, a tracking system typically facilitated by a local sheriff’s office. We also fought for a 1:1 aide and became even more “squeaky” about school security breaches, such as fence gaps and open gates. We looked at it as a wakeup call and felt lucky to have the resources we needed.
Around that same time, another little boy went missing in Michigan. Same age. Same diagnosis. He was found dead.
I’ve never had to know what it’s like to have my child still missing after the sun goes down, or hear unbearable news that my child is gone. I don’t believe it’s right that some children have access to safety resources, and others not. To me, it wasn’t okay that an AMBER Alert could have helped that young boy, but was never issued because he wasn’t abducted. Our children are dying alone, many without a voice to call for help. Every child should be given the resources to stay alive.
There will come a day when we won’t be here to make sure Connor’s safe. Should he ever have to rely on someone else after we’re gone, my hope is that person, and the general public, has a better understanding of this issue. Until that time, we’ll continue to help Connor learn ways to keep himself safe. Who knows, maybe one day he’ll find some dusty miniature signs in the attic and ask, “Mom, what in the world are these?” “Oh, just some old exit strategy.”
A new website, AWAARE.org, has been developed to address autism-related wandering. AWAARE is a collaborative project of AutismOne, Autism Speaks, Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation, HollyRod Foundation, National Autism Association and Talk About Curing Autism.