Select Page

New Release
For Immediate Release
December 19, 2017

National Organization Helps Schools Prevent Autism-related Wandering
Recent Cases of Missing Students Underscore Need for Awareness, Prevention

Portsmouth, RI – A five-year-old student’s recent disappearance from a Harlem school adds to the ongoing conversation of safety in the classroom for students with autism who are prone to wandering away.

Similar to wandering behaviors in the Alzheimer’s community, wandering/elopement, or “running,” behaviors in children and adults with autism have led to countless tragedies across the country. A Pediatrics study in 2012 found that half of children with autism attempt to wander/elope from a safe environment, and that nearly a third of these cases happen from school settings. In March, a studyfrom the National Autism Association (NAA) found that over 70% of wandering-related deaths are caused by accidental drowning.

Earlier this year, a 6-year-old student with autism walked away from his elementary school in Arkansas before drowning in a nearby residential pool. This time last year, another student with autism left his Brooklyn school and was later found on a rooftop by an off-duty officer. In 2013, a 14-year-old student with autism vanished from his school in Queens, sparking a massive search. His remains were found several months later on the banks of the East River. “Lights, sounds and other triggers can increase the risk of a student with autism quickly exiting the classroom or leaving the school during times of commotion or transitions,” says Wendy Fournier, president of NAA. 

To help combat wandering-related tragedies, NAA developed the Big Red Safety Teacher Toolkitprogram for caregivers and teachers. The toolkit ships free-of-charge to educators, aides and school administrators in need of wandering-prevention tools.  “Our program provides the critical support teachers and aides need to protect their students with autism in schools,” says Fournier.

Developed in 2015 as a companion program for the group’s Big Red Safety Box for caregivers, each teacher toolkit contains an educational booklet for teachers and aides, door alarms, stop sign visual prompts, calming cards, student emergency forms, social stories, a safety checklist and more. The free toolkits are made possible with the support of ALEX AND ANI and Jasco.

Teachers, aides, and school administrators in the U.S. qualify to receive a Big Red Safety Teacher Toolkit. To apply, visit

Because school cases often lead to encounters with police, the group has also developed its Meet the Police initiative, which provides guidance on how to introduce children and adults with autism to members of local law enforcement.

About National Autism Association (NAA):

The National Autism Association is a nonprofit organization focused on addressing urgent issues in the autism community, including wandering/elopement, suicidality, bullying, restraint/seclusion, abuse, mistreatment, and discrimination. In 2008, NAA sounded the alarm on autism-related wandering deaths, and since that time has worked to provide awareness, training, education, and resources to families and professionals. The group has provided over 40,000 Big Red Safety Boxes and Big Red Safety Teacher Toolkits to families and teachers across the U.S., as well as ongoing training for first responders and service professionals throughout the country and abroad.


Media Contacts:
Lori McIlwain (919) 741.1646,
Wendy Fournier (401) 293.5551,