Practical Tips For Stopping Your Child Wandering Off In Public

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Picture this: you’re having a nice family day out at the mall with your child, when you look away for a split second. When you turn back, they’ve disappeared! It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, and the panic won’t stop until you’ve found your child safe and sound.

Having a child wander off (elope) in a public place is a big concern for any parent, and luckily the risk of it happening generally decreases as the child gets older. Unfortunately if your child has autism or developmental delay this often isn’t the case, and the safety risks can even be heightened as they age and become more mobile depending on the severity of their disorder.

But there are some real, practical things you can do to help ensure your child doesn’t wander off when you’re not looking. We go through them below:

1) Identify their triggers

This is the really key one. Children with autism or developmental delay often stray because they are trying to access an item or engage in activity that they find pleasurable, or because they are trying to avoid something. Keep a diary of times when they have wandered off and try and identify why each time happened.

2) Set prevention measures

Once you’ve identified triggers, you can set about introducing prevention measures. Typically there are 5 different types of prevention measures you can take, and you’ll need to choose the appropriate one(s) for your child and the situation:

Noncontingent reinforcement: this uses a time-based schedule which provides the item at regular intervals. For example, if your child is wandering off to try and get a certain type of food, you can make sure that the food is made available to them at regular intervals.

Differential reinforcement of other behavior: this provides a preferred item (such as a toy or food item) whenever elopement doesn’t occur for a certain period of time.
Differential reinforcement of alternative behavior: providing a preferred item when a desired alternative behaviour occurs, e.g. walking instead of running.
Functional Communication Training: this involves teaching your child to communicate what they want rather than trying to get it themselves.
Antecedent manipulations: changes the environment to decrease likelihood of element, or make elopement a non-option.

3) Work with your therapist

A number of the above options will require working closely with your therapist to deliver the right behavior interventions for your child. You will often use a combination of the above methods, so that there is a full and holistic prevention plan in place. Your therapist should also work your child to teach them basic safety skills. We also recommended that you learn basic first aid and CPR.

Finally, it’s important to get the help of the community and local law enforcement so that they can look out for your child in the event they do wander off. Share your contact details with the police and people in your local area and make them aware of your child’s condition, including any specific behaviors they should watch out for or be prepared to deal with.

Article Originally Published here

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