Here’s knowledge, empowerment, and resources so that you’ll make confident decisions about how to keep your autistic kid safe.
For most parents, keeping their child safe is of the utmost importance. Autistic kids sometimes have specific safety considerations.
Autistic kids have been known to elope – disappear, run away. This is frightening when it happens at school or in a public place and you can’t find them. If your kid is nonspeaking, that can further complicate their ability to find their way back to you.
While you hope that nothing ever happens to your kid, a situation as simple as getting lost in a store or as complicated as wandering away at a crowded public place can happen.
Informing Medical / Emergency Professionals
In this section we’re going to explore some different ways you can alert emergency professionals that your kid is autistic and/or nonspeaking.
This is important because you want them to know why someone might appear unresponsive or uncooperative.
First we’ll talk about a couple ways that have more CONS than pros, and then ways we recommend trying first.
Autism car window stickers and decals:
- Emergency professionals are NOT trained to look for these, so they probably won’t even see it
- Advertising a disabled child on a vehicle presents a safety concern in and of itself (this is a RARE danger, but someone who does want to abduct a child may think a nonverbal one is easier)
- Can also be used with intention of avoiding unwanted/unwelcome comments or judgements from others… but do they really make things easier or safer for your kid?
- Have the same complications as above.
ID card or wallet cards:
- Can be useful in some places
- In emergency situations, especially for people of color, reaching for a card or a wallet could be misinterpreted as reaching for weapons and be met with force
Medical alert bracelets for autism (preferred):
- Some options are recognized by medical professionals!
- Discreet, can contain necessary identifying information like names and phone numbers without giving information to strangers
- Can be bracelets, necklaces, or on shoes
- American Medical ID
- Alert Me Bands
Autistic kid runs away / elopes / wanders off or gets lost / hides
If a kid runs away, elopes, or hides, they’re running away from something or someone. How can you find this cause and solve the problem?
For kids that just wander off or get lost, it can be as simple as not paying attention to where you are going and not noticing if your parents are following you for one minute or less, or being really curious about something
There are some things that you can do to prevent wandering off. Verbal and nonverbal signals can be made, practiced, and enforced. While you’re working on these skills, though, you need solutions NOW.
Backpack or harness leashes
Backpack leashes and harnesses are one way to make sure you know where your kid is.
There are pros and cons to using a backpack leash. They could give you peace of mind, although a particularly determined child may resist such things. You could fear the judgment of others, or be uncomfortable with the idea yourself.
Here’s a variety of internet articles that talk about the pros and cons of using backpack or harness leashes. Use them to decide what’s best for yourself. (Mostly non-autistic writers)
- Yes My Kids Is On A Leash. Don’t Judge Me.
- Child Leashes: The Controversial Safety Device
- Child Leashes: Pros and Cons-cons/
- I Put My Kid on a Leash — and Your Judgment Says a Lot About Our Society
- Kid Leashes: Helpful or Hurtful
GPS locators for a child’s phone or ones that you can attach to a backpack or clothing can help a kid that has a tendency to run off. Kids tend to be more receptive to using these then they know why you’re using it, and they trust you to use it to keep them safe rather than pushing.
Examples of GPS Locator devices:
At the end of the day, safety is sometimes the most important thing, and this is a matter where you must put your foot down even if they resist this control. Safety is the most important.
Our online Autism 101 For Families class has a lot more detailed information about how to keep autistic kids safe.
- How to talk to your kid about safety situations, talking to emergency services, what to do in emergency situations
- Getting used to using child seats, seat belts, and other safety tools
- Verbal and nonverbal signals to encourage independence in growing kids while still following safety rule
- How to disclose autism diagnosis: to who and in what situations
- Creating a safety plan with your family
If you want more information on our online Autism 101 For Families class – and how to keep autistic kids safe – read this post on our blog.