Autism Safety & Risk Management, Part 2

Dennis Debbaubt began his Autism Risk & Safety Management Seminar with a powerful analogy: How many people wore their seatbelts on the way to this seminar? How many people just put it on without even thinking about it? We don’t think about the fact that we might get in an accident – we just put it on because it’s part of our daily safety routine, like locking doors and looking both ways. We didn’t arrive at the seminar and say, “Well, that was a waste of time, putting on my seatbelt. I didn’t even get in an accident!” And we’re still going to wear our seatbelts the next time we get in the car. Likewise, managing risk for our children is part of our daily safety routine. We don’t have incidents occurring every day, but we still need to have those risk management efforts in place. And in many cases, there is more that we can be doing, even in our own home.

One of the biggest risks for people with autism is wandering, whether they’re at home or they’re away from home. I’ve experienced this with my own son over the years, and wish that I’d had more knowledge of the things I could have done to prepare for such a situation before it occurred. I still would have panicked all the times it happened, but at least I would have had more of a plan in place. The following are some tips to manage wandering and also address in-home safety issues:

  • Secure the home. As I discovered, resourceful autistic preschoolers can quickly move a chair over to doors with locks strategically placed “out of their reach.” Thus, I learned to keep all chairs away from the vicinity of the door, and to move the locks to the very top of the door. Dennis also recommends that when you have to put extra locks on your exterior doors to make sure to upgrade your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Put a bell or alarm system on the doors, or – ideally – have a professional locksmith or burglar alarm company install a system. Use technology to your advantage. Have stickers put on all windows near exterior doors alerting first responders that there is an individual with autism in the house. (See ASA’s Safe & Sound program for stickers and more tips.)
  • Use social stories, books, or videos to teach ASD children about safety issues and being able to respond to police and emergency services personnel. This will be most helpful in situations when you (the parent) might be incapacitated, such as a car accident, or in a fire, so that your child will not hide or run from rescuers.
  • Of course, secure poisonous chemicals, cleaners, matches and lighters, tools, knives, and weapons in locked cabinets. Make sure the ASD individual does not have access to the key!
  • Ask your local 911 call center to “red flag” information about your child in their database before you need to call them in an emergency. That way, if and when you call during an emergency, the 911 dispatcher can alert the first responders with the information before they arrive. Providing them with this information before an incident occurs will yield better responses.
  • Prepare an Autism Emergency Information Form and make copies to keep on the refrigerator, near the phone, in your purse and the glove box of your car, and to give to other family members, teachers, friends, trusted neighbors, and caregivers.
  • Consider ID options. Even verbal individuals may have difficulty expressing themselves in stressful situations and would benefit from some type of identification. Options include a MedicAlert bracelet or necklace, a shoe tag, laminated cards sewn into jackets or on belt loops or zipper pulls, and non-permanent tattoos that bear ID information (
  • Check if there is a Project Lifesaver program near you.  If not, use a personal GPS tracking device, such as those featured at Brickhouse Security (be sure to scroll down to read the FAQs). Again, use technology to your advantage: LoJack SafetyNet features a tracking bracelet that utilizes radio frequency technology and has a 6-month battery life.
  • Keep a record that notes all the safety precautions you make. You may need to prove to authorities that you are not a neglectful parent, especially if your child is a wanderer. Some will assume that this is because the child is unsupervised for long periods of time and will tell you that you need to “keep an eye on” your child or “teach them not to wander off.” We parents of ASD children are some of the most vigilant parents around, but those who don’t know us (or our children) tend to make assumptions, and unfortunately we hear those types of comments all too often.

In the next post, I’ll discuss what I learned from the seminar about what you can do in your community to help manage risk and keep your child safe.

16 thoughts on “Autism Safety & Risk Management, Part 2

  1. Paulene Angela

    Hi Tanya,

    Thanks for this information it has given a lot of food for thought.

    Out of interest, the “Stickers to place on windows” in my opinion an absolute NO NO for us here in southern Spain. Hey that’s like saying to a burglar, come on in, vulnerable person may be inside.

    We do have break-ins, because of such “soft” laws, the police are feed up catching these criminals and then the justice system lets them off.

    I believe you have much better laws for protection in the States, once you are in your own home and an intruder decides to cross your property line!.

    Looking forward to your next instalment. Many thanks.

  2. brian

    if you’re going to use a GPS device, why not look at the sentryGPSid.
    It’s almost 1/2 the price of the Brickhouse device, the service fee is MUCH less and there are more options already included in the price.

  3. jess wilson

    this is great information, and hits close to home.

    a friend of mine was harshly admonished once for ‘not keeping an eye on her son’. the kid was a flippin houdini, let me tell you. i watched him figure out how to get out of my house like nobody’s business. the officer’s words nearly destroyed her – dismissing her constant vigil as though it were nothing. sigh.

    this is really helpful stuff.

  4. Holly

    This is very helpful information, especially for parents new to autism…

    For the last point, I had the school write me a note to keep in the car that proved that she had autism (just in case some nasty officer thought i was just a bad mommy!! trust me it happened to me once.)

    Let me know if I can link your series to my resource page? I would love to…

  5. Nicki

    That is some really good information! I never thought of calling the 911 center to “red flag” information about your family… that is a really good idea!
    Also as a way of giving out information in an emergency for an individual with ASD, even if they are verbal… I used to have a folder with a piece of paper that had my picture and some information about my disabilities. It basically said that I would probably have trouble communicating and might be acting strangely, but was not on drugs and did not get physically violent. I used it quite a few times to hand to police officers and medical personell… back then people were ALWAYS thinking I was a drug addict or that I was severely mentally ill and off my meds or something..Adults or teenagers with ASD can make their own information sheets, the way I did, so they can decide what information they want to quickly share about themselves.

  6. Alicia

    this is GREAT! and very timely for me as just yesterday I almost lost my 14 year old from my younger daughter’s dance studio. She just walked out the door, unnoticed by me as I was busy collecting up my my 4, 3, and 18 month old. My eldest was half way across the parking lot… ugh!

  7. rhemashope

    Very good information and very, very timely. I especially like the idea of having information red-flagged before an emergency. We recently got ID bracelets in for both my girls.

  8. Cathy

    this is so helpful–thanks! Ethan is so impulsive, i still have to watch him when we’re getting in and out of the car so he doesn’t bolt on me.

  9. Tanya Savko Post author

    Paulene – Thank you for mentioning the concern parents might have about disclosure. In the next post, there will be a link to a booklet about predators (coming into your home) that Dennis Debbaubt recommends. It probably wouldn’t apply in your area, but it might be helpful for parents here who have those concerns.

    Nicki – Excellent point! I’ll actually be discussing the information card in my next post!

  10. Pingback: Autism Safety Measures « Autism In a Word

  11. dynamite girl

    So much of this info I want to share with others! Thank you. I got the shirt yesterday. I wanted to let you know it arrived (YAH). I am so excited about this project, it was really fun (and eye opening) to see my children’s responses as I told them the story. They do not know Dylan has Asperger’s. (I am not sure Dylan knows, the doctors talk in front of him like he isn’t there but, when I bring it up he changes the subject, I figure he needs to come to terms with it before I tell his siblings) He was only officially diagnosed in Jan. But, we talk about autism constantly at our house. We are involved with many people who have it, and my kids are very protective of them. My ten year old wanted to hunt down the teacher (I am not sure what he thought he was going to do). I got them calmed down and they all agreed the shirts would be a good way to spread awareness. Dylan will not be home till Saturday so I will post pictures then. He is at a scout camp…scary.

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