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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Safety First For Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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By Anne Stull, MA, BCBA, LPA
WebMD Feature from “Exceptional Parent” Magazine

All parents worry about their children’s health, happiness, and general well-being, but parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities must often make extraordinary efforts to ensure that their sons and daughters are safe both inside and outside the home.

Children with ASD and other special needs may be more likely to act impulsively—to run away or wander than their typically developing peers. This puts them in greater danger of becoming lost or getting hurt. If their families are in active military service, frequent relocations may make it even more difficult for them to be familiar with their surroundings or to distinguish a stranger from a friend. For these children, basic safety skills may some day become critical life-saving skills.

Like most parents, Jose Ruiz, a Combat Engineer stationed in Camp Lejeune, N.C., and his wife Johan have done everything they can to make sure their home is safe for their three children, Hari (7), Ale (5), and Allyson (3). But they worry about Ale, who was diagnosed with autistic disorder in October of 2008. Ale loves to run away, a playful habit that could lead to a dangerous situation at home, school, or out in the community.

A Very, Very Big Concern

“He started running when he was about 3 years old,” says Jose. “And he can run very fast! When we take him out to the store, he could be standing right next to us and then all of a sudden ‘poof!’ – he’s gone.”

That was exactly what happened during a trip to the grocery store last year. One minute Ale was at his parents’ side, the next he was running down the aisle, heading for the door. Fortunately, the aisle was full of shoppers and he was not able to get past them.

“At school it’s the same problem,” Jose continues, describing how he once watched Ale jump right out of a swing and head for the gate of the school yard the moment his teacher started to announce that recess was over.

“We have learned that children with autism are very unpredictable,” he says. “For us, that represents a very, very big concern because if we’re not paying attention, he can literally disappear in a snap.”

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