We learned early on, even before the Navigator’s diagnosis, to keep a tight hold on him because he would dart off without warning or stop following us without saying anything when we were out of the house. 

Autism Dad learned that the hard way when the Navigator decided to walk three blocks to the park instead of following his dad home. Autism Dad didn’t realize he wasn’t with him until he was out of sight. We were lucky to have found him quickly and that he was safe.

After his diagnosis we realized we were likely dealing with Autism wandering and elopement issues.

I am pleased today to present a guest post from wellness coach Vee Cecil. After reading an article about the high rate of drowning deaths among children on the Autism spectrum, she was inspired to research wellness approaches to reducing wandering and elopement.

Her website My New Well is a great resource for wellness tips and suggestions related to healthy eating, stress management, and wellness for depression and disabilities – I encourage you to check it out!

Please keep in mind that this isn’t a fool-proof strategy nor are the suggestions below intended to substitute for safety or security measures that might be required for individual situations; and always follow the advice you have received from professionals regarding wandering, elopement, and your child’s behavioral communication.

Three Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Reduce Wandering

Statistics on the prevalence of wandering and the high rate of drowning among children with autism aren’t news to parents of children with the condition. In fact, many parents of children on the autism spectrum spend a great deal of their time worrying about the harm that could come to their child when wandering.

That’s why they’re constantly seeking solutions—adding multiple locks to doors, seeking ways to mitigate the cost of using a service dog which can be effective in preventing wandering, putting up fences and gates, and on and on.

And while there are many such physical changes that parents can make to help prevent wandering, there are also important lifestyle changes that might help. Read on to learn more about how changes in your child’s daily routine can help reduce their compulsion to wander. 

First, understand the motive behind the wandering. Children with autism will wander for different reasons. As Safe Sound Family notes in its article on how to keep children with autism safe, some children wander in pursuit of a goals—e.g., they may want to find water. Others bolt when they’re experiencing over-stimulation—e.g., an area may be too noisy.

When you understand your child’s triggers, you can take steps to work around them. For example, if your child loves playing in water and will wander in order to do so, the article suggests, setting aside time each day for water play.

Second, improve sleep patterns. It is certainly not uncommon for children with autism to have trouble sleeping. But as Psychology Today explains those disturbed sleep patterns could contribute to their compulsion to wander. It advises that you not let your child have any caffeinated beverages and that you stick to a regular sleep schedule.

Raising Children also offers many great tips for parents of kids with autism who are having trouble sleeping. For example, it recommends doing what you can to ease a child’s anxiety at bedtime —e.g. if they don’t like the dark, you might use a nightlight or play music that comforts them.

Third, get more exercise. Another factor that might help improve sleep patterns is for the child to get plenty of exercise. In its article on how to prevent wandering, Web MD notes that an “increase in physical activity” can help reduce the urge to wander at night.

If you’re seeking a form of exercise that works for your child, swimming is a great choice. Not only is learning to swim an essential form of self-protection for children with autism, as this well-rounded guide on the benefits of aquatic therapy for kids with autism notes swimming has many other positive outcomes. For example, it can help children on the autism spectrum improve their motor skills and also help reduce anxiety and stress.

Like how Autism manifests differently in each person on the spectrum, there is no single solution that will prevent wandering in children with autism. The best way to reduce your child’s ability to wander is to take a number of precautions in the hope that the combined effect can keep them safe. These three changes might be great options to add to the mix if you haven’t already.

Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, personal trainer, and bootcamp instructor. She is passionate about studying and sharing her findings in wellness through her recently-launched blog, My New Well. She lives in Kentucky with her family.

Exercise for Wandering PreventionVia Flickr – by pascaldiazduran