On Tuesday, yet another child with autism wandered away from a school setting. According to WCJB TV in Gainesville, the boy’s family had no idea the school was allowing him to walk unattended from one class to another. Instead of walking to his special needs class, the boy left campus, passing the front office, the playground, and eventually – after crossing four lanes of traffic – made it home safely.
School elopement following unsupervised transitions is becoming more common* in our community. Sadly, many wandering incidents end in tragedy. Just in the last few weeks, two children with autism died after wandering away from a safe setting. Since September, there have been 127 (reported) missing-person incidents involving someone with autism. Of those, roughly 20% involved a school setting. And of the now 1 in 88 children diagnosed with autism, nearly half are prone to wandering away from a safe environment according to data from the Kennedy Krieger Institute.
Educators need our support. How can we help them become more aware and better prepared to prevent, and respond to, autism-related wandering/elopement emergencies? Where’s the policy guidance on this subject from the Department of Education? How can we keep both students and staffers safe (a New Hampshire principal dove into icy waters to save a student with autism last January!)
If you know of an educator interested in the issue, have them check out the school section of our AWAARE site: http://www.awaare.org/schoolofficials.htm
*Our son exited school buildings multiple times following unsupervised transitions. Most schools are unaware of how much this is happening across the country, but some are eager for support. If you know of a classroom in need, pick them up some of the tools we include in our Big Red Safety Box: http://awaare.org/safetymaterials.htm (Those door chimes are excellent and inexpensive – the Stop Signs are DIY!)