For the third time in the eight months we’ve lived in Hawaii, Aidan has wandered away from the safety of our home & small neighborhood enclave out to the main road. There’s a large playground near the top of the valley, we think that’s been her aim each time. There’s a creek that runs along side the valley where a lot of wildlife lives. I fear that if she doesn’t go to the playground, she’ll try to get down to the creek. Today was the third occurrence of her wandering and she was gone for at least an hour. If Ryan hadn’t brought her home, my next step was calling the Honolulu Police.
She told me she was going outside to play with her “friends” across the street. I say “friends” because the four kids that live across the street are not nice to her (nor me for that matter), and I really don’t like her playing with them. She’s oblivious to their snarkiness & rude comments but it still doesn’t make it right. Anyway, she said she was going to play, I initially said no, she begged, I caved, she went to play. After about 30 minutes I realized I hadn’t heard much kid noise in a bit, better go check (living in HI, we keep our doors & windows open for ventilation). The kids said she went off “with her friend” (which turned out to be a big fat lie). When I asked who, they shrugged; where, shrugs again. Thanks for the help. She was no where to be seen on the street so I called up to Ryan to come help me look for her. I stayed at the house while he walked around the neighborhood. He finally found her, out on the main road “barking like a dog.”
She had no idea that she could’ve been in any danger. But that’s the thing: children with autism are often the most difficult to teach about the dangers associated with wandering such as drowning, getting struck by a vehicle, falling from a high place, dehydration, hyperthermia, abduction, victimization and assault.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that an average of 1 in 88 individuals in the U.S. have an ASD that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. These challenges often present unique safety risks, including those associated with a person’s tendency to wander or elope from a safe environment.
According to data released in April 2011 by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) through the Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI):
- Roughly half, or 49%, of children with a autism attempt to elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times higher than their unaffected siblings
- More than one third of children with autism who wander/elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number Aidan knows our phone numbers, my name, Ryan’s name, rank & where he works but has a hard time with our address. We need to work on this.
- Two in three parents of elopers reported their missing children had a “close call” with a traffic injury As busy as that main road is, this is my biggest fear. She just goes off into her own little world, exploring & imagining, not paying the least bit of attention to her surroundings.
- 32% of parents reported a “close call” with a possible drowning Knowing that she has no fear & has none since she was a very tiny baby, we put her in swimming lessons young, the kid swims like a fish. Of course, if she falls or is some how incapacitated, all of those lessons are right out the window.
- Children with ASD are eight times more likely to elope between the ages of 7 and 10 than their typically-developing siblings All of her wanderings have been right in that window…7 & 8 years old.
- Half of families with elopers report they had never received advice or guidance about elopement from a professional Nope, not a bit. All I know I’ve read online from my own research.
In 2012, the National Autism Association found that from 2009 to 2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91% total U.S. deaths reported in children with autism subsequent to wandering, and that 23% of total wandering-related deaths occurred while the child was in the care of someone other than a parent.
We’ve informed Aidan that she is no longer allowed to leave the house without Mama or Daddy with her. Each of her three wandering incidents have been as a result of us letting her go outside on her own, mistakenly trusting her. Now that we have a better grasp of what’s going on (or, more accurately, NOT going on) in that little head of hers, we’re hoping that prohibiting her from going out on her own puts a stop to the wandering, rather than having to put the whole house on lockdown. We’ve been lucky each time but God knows we can’t press our luck.