Article first published as Wandering and Autism: A Parent's Perspective on Technorati.
The morning after we moved into our town home in San Diego, we started unpacking. The kids were playing both upstairs and down stairs, exploring the new home. After a few minutes, I looked up and asked my wife where our youngest was. We started looking in all the rooms, but he was no where to be seen.
Now frantic, I ran outside in my bare feet and checked the fire exit, and it was open. Our youngest had squeezed through the small opening at the fire escape, and climbed down the stairs. I ran up and down the back side of the complex, but couldn't find him. Then a police officer drove up and asked if I was looking for a child. They had found him down the street, walking in the middle of the road (thank goodness it was early on a Sunday morning!).
While both our boys have bolted before, this was the first time our youngest had bolted without our knowing. It was particularly frightening because we didn't know anyone in the area, our son didn't know the area, and it happened when we were certain that the town home was secured. We have since fixed the issue, but it remains a fear.
USA Today reported a study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network Project and published in the journal Pediatrics that finds 46% of children with autism have wandered, bolted, or eloped, and 49% had done it at least once after age 4 when bolting is no longer supposed to be that common.
Wandering is a very dangerous problem that threatens those on the autism spectrum because they often have close calls with traffic or come in danger of drowning. It's frightening for parents, frightening for the children, and you get some very interesting questions from the police when you don't carry your ID in your pajama pocket.
Ways to resolve bolting include double lock deadbolts, so a key is required to enter and leave the house. This works great, until your child figures out the right key, where it is, and how to get it. Alarms are also very common, both on the doors and on your children. The doors are more common, though if you have people coming in and out regularly, it defeats the purpose. Proximity alarms on your child work well, assuming they are willing to keep their transmitter on their person (my son is quick to find those things and take them off).
There are a things you can do as a parent, but it really helps to have the community behind you. I was very grateful for three officers in San Diego that Sunday morning that helped me locate my son and bring him home. Once I told them he had Autism, they then understood why he was so feisty (their word), and why he was unable to tell them who he was and where we were. And it served as a very dramatic reminder to us how important it is to make sure all avenues have been properly accounted.