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Safety First For Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Wandering and “Stranger Danger” continued...

“If parents have children with ASD who are able to open doors and are at risk for wandering away and possibly getting lost or hurt, they might want to consult a professional who specializes in both the behavioral treatment of ASD and the behavioral treatment for wandering,” advises Susan M. Wilczynski, Ph.D., BCBA, Executive Director of the National Autism Center. “This professional will be able to conduct a thorough functional analysis to determine the reason for the child’s actions.” According to Dr. Wilczynski, there are four primary reasons why a child might run away or wander: to gain access to desirable items or activities; to get attention; to avoid undesirable situations; or because they require a different level of sensory stimulation than is currently available (the child might feel the need to run after sitting for a long period of time, for example).

After the reason for the running away or wandering has been determined, an individualized treatment program can be developed to address the behavior. ”This program should outline specific actions that parents will take if a child runs away or wanders,” Dr. Wilczynski advises. “It should include suggestions for how they might re-structure the environment so the child is less likely to run away.” At the same time, both verbal and nonverbal children should be taught successful strategies for getting their needs met. “For example,” continues Dr. Wilczynski, “it is best to teach a child to request a visit to the local park if his reason for running away is to spend time in that location.”

Despite the best efforts of families and professionals, some children may continue to run and wander away. When that is the case, parents may consider additional precautions throughout the home, as well as safety devices or products. Some families invest in personal tracking devices or systems that can help to locate their child if he runs or wanders away.

It is important that children who are at risk for wandering away and encountering strangers be taught to identify men and women in uniform such as police officers or fire fighters – or even store clerks with identification badges – who will be most likely to offer assistance if they are lost. When possible, it is equally important to share relevant information with local safety personnel, and to educate these individuals about the unique needs of these children.

Keeping children with ASD or other developmental disorders safe at home, school, and in the community is a tremendous responsibility and challenge for military and civilian families throughout the country. Fortunately, families like Ale’s have discovered that there are skilled behavior analysts, dedicated school personnel, and caring “community helpers” ready to provide support and guidance every step of the way.

WebMD Feature from “Exceptional Parent” Magazine

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