How to Keep Your Autistic Child Safe at School
Around 48 percent of children on the autism spectrum elope from safe environments like school – meaning they run off impulsively, putting themselves in great danger. Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death for people with autism, according to the National Autism Association, and these deaths are usually associated with a wandering episode. Parents must plan ahead to ensure basic safety during each school year and to counteract some of the specific issues that come with autism.
How to Handle Autism Wandering
Autistic kids that elope are fast. It takes just a second of inattention from them to run. The incidents are unpredictable, as well. The best defense is a good offense when it comes to running. Applied behavior analysis can improve behavior and decrease wandering episodes. Through ABA, your child learns to break every task down into small steps, so when they start to walk way, they instinctively stop long enough for someone to notice.
Provide your child with identification that includes your contact information in case he or she does get away. This could be wearable items such as a medical alert tag or labels on clothes and shoes. You might provide several different types of ID just to be safe and consider a tracking device, as well. This allows the authorities to find a child that does get away quickly and safely.
What are Some Other Safety Issues?
Wandering is the most prevalent safety issue, but not the only one. Some other concerns to address include:
- Pica – Eating nonfood items
- Bullying – Special needs children are often targets for bullies
- Sexual, mental or physical assault – Nonverbal children are at times the victims.
Sit down with teachers and discuss the steps they will take to keep your child safe from these hazards during school hours and what you can do at home to help.
How to Create an Effective School Safety Plan
Start by visiting your child’s school and classroom to address potential problems. Look for wandering triggers like a body of water near the playground or a loud fan in the classroom. Other tips include:
- Evaluate the school schedule for transitioning times. Is there a time when your child has to change classrooms rooms or move somewhere without supervision? Ask the school about one-on-one service, so someone is there to guide your autistic child from place to place safely.
- Take your child to the school before class starts and sit in the classroom together. Visit the playground, library and restrooms, as well, to see for yourself if anything about the environment is problematic. Practice different calming techniques to see what works and what doesn’t. Provide that information to the teacher and one-on-one.
- Advocate for safety training in the school curriculum to help special needs children adapt to the new environment and learn to stay safe.
- Ask the school administration what their protocols are regarding restraints. In the past, physical restraints have been used to control autistic children, but they can result in physical and emotional trauma.
The best safety resource you have is your knowledge of your child’s behavior. Be an active participant in the education process, so you can share that knowledge. Schedule an IEP meeting before the new school year starts to discuss possible safety issues. Schedule a second one a couple weeks into the year to fine tune the safety plan.