Tag Archives: tracking device

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 (tattooswithapurpose.com).
  • 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.

Lost and Found

I have often said that I have a gray hair on my head for each time the school called me about some behavioral issue, each IEP meeting, and each public debacle we have survived. But I have more gray hairs that were caused by my son getting lost than by everything else combined.

Nigel is a wanderer. Up until he was about seven I had to have a lock high up on the front door or he would just run out and take off down the street. I wondered how I would handle it when he got older and could reach the lock. Implant one of those tracking devices? He was a runner, and it worried me. But something happened when he started to talk. He seemed to have less of an inclination to want to escape, and saying, “Stay in the house” was something he could understand. I felt like I could breathe a little bit more.

But the wandering nature is inherent. Whenever we are away from home, his exploratory urge kicks in, and he takes off if I’m not constantly watching him. Sometimes, in recent years, he tells me where he is going, but the odds are that he will not still be there when I come to collect him. Something else will have caught his attention, and he will have moved on. And I will spend the next half an hour running around looking for him, wringing my hands, imagining someone taking him, considering notifying the police, and basically driving myself into near-hysteria.  And it just happened yesterday. Again.

We had gone to a large park in a nearby city where an international fair was being held with lots of booths, exhibits, musicians, dancers, and food and craft purveyors. Nigel informed me that he wanted to go to the playground. I said okay, later wishing I had added, “and wait there for me.” After about ten minutes, we made our way toward the playground, and as we neared it, I glanced around for Nigel. I saw him scaling a mini climbing wall and started walking in that direction, briefly looking at some traditional Mexican dancers off to the side.  A moment later I reached the climbing wall, and there was no sign of Nigel. I went around the back of it. Not there. I looked at every playground feature. No Nigel.  Not again! I wanted to yell. How does he continue to do this to me?! He was just here!

I looked at the surrounding area, up in trees, around bushes (in case he had followed a bird or squirrel), all around. No sign of him. I informed the rest of our party (Aidan and my boyfriend) that Nigel had taken off, and they joined in the search. We walked through all the booths, went beyond the playground where there was an inflatable jumping/ball-pit thing attracting lots of kids, and even checked the belly dancing show going on. No Nigel. Then I retraced our steps back to the band we watched when we first arrived. Then I went back to the playground. I ran into my boyfriend and he suggested notifying the police. I said I wanted to make one more sweep first. I went beyond the playground, past the inflatable jumping/ball pit thing, past the belly dancing, and there, there, around the other side of all of that, was a fire engine. I saw Nigel’s head in the side window of the fire engine. He was seated with a bunch of little kids less than half his age, smiling and excited to be sitting in a fire engine. Oh, my son.

So many times have I felt this emotion without a name. It is a combination of intense relief, but also frustration, a little anger, and exasperation. The relief, of course, overpowers everything else. But how many times must we go through this? How many times must Aidan help look for his older brother? How many times must our plans be disrupted? How many times must I fear that he’s been taken? It is still so hard to bear, that sense of dread. The hysterical fear that he has been taken.

And yet, somehow I bear it. I must and I do. I say to myself when I find him, He’s okay, and that’s all that matters. And I admonish him for not staying where he said he’d be, and he apologizes, and we go on our not-as-merry way. And I think some more about implanting a tracking device in him. Or getting walkie-talkies. That is, if his could be strapped on to him somehow. Otherwise, I’d have a lost son and a lost walkie-talkie. Not to mention more gray hair.