Autism, Schools, and Unsupervised Transitions

Posted by on Apr 13, 2012 in Featured | 6 comments

Autism, Schools, and Unsupervised Transitions

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:

*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: (Those door chimes are excellent and inexpensive – the Stop Signs are DIY!)



  1. My son was eloped during bus loading at the end of school on Tuesday. No one who was responsible for him knew he was missing. He made it almost through a very large parking lot, across a small street, through a fast food parking lot, through a fairly large section of grass before crossing a busy four lane road to a gas mart where employees contacted the police. The bus driver waited 10 minutes before leaving the school and when he didn’t get on the bus, the driver got off and started asking where he was, the teachers and aids said “he’s on the bus”. When she told them he was not then they realized he was missing. My son could have been seriously injured or worse, he’s 8 and non verbal. This is a very serious matter and the school district was aware that he is a flight risk so how can we know our children are safe when going to school if even when the district is fully aware of his tendency to flee he is not watched and assumptions are made about him being safe?

    • Hi Carolyn,
      This is terrifying. I would call an IEP meeting right away and incorporate safety procedures and 1:1 adult supervision throughout his entire day. We have a sample IEP letter on our AWAARE site for reference. And please feel to email us

  2. QUESTION? How do we get schools to understand about wandering and not to apply tardies and truency to children who are unsupervised in moving from class to class for them to understand that sometimes the smallest thing catches their eye or that time passing to get to next class is sometimes not a current perception they can account for or maybe too many noises or people moving around them and they back off or go slower? this has been a real issue for my grandson

    • Be sure that this issue gets addressed in his IEP. The IEP team needs to hear what’s happening during transitions, and to provide language that will modify his schedule and allow for more time. Your grandson should not be marked tardy because of this. If the issue is keeping him home more than usual, or is making him late for school, this needs to be addressed in the IEP as well. Many of our kids need a modified schedule-

  3. “keys to words” is an illustrated dictionary of the 60 small common words of English. Every meaning of every word is illustrated. It’s totally visual and works with autistic students.

    I just finished it last December. I want to help!

    Brian Madden

  4. So important!

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