According to the CDC, 1 in 68 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and studies have shown that 49% of ASD children are prone to wandering. This means that approximately 1 out of every 140 students at a school could show wandering behavior.
As a result, more and more schools have trained their staff and updated their facilities to help prevent wandering and avoid problems. That being said, there are still some things that parents should do as their ASD child goes back to school.
1. Make Sure the Entire Staff Knows
The school can’t do anything to prevent problems if they don’t know about the situation. Meet with the administration staff at your school and your child’s teacher. They should make sure that a child prone to wandering is under supervision by a staff member at all times. The rest of the staff should also be informed, even if they don’t work with your child. That way they know to keep an eye out for your child if they see him or her unsupervised.
2. Go Over How to Interact with Your Child
Different ASD children will react differently to unfamiliar people. Some are unable to communicate, while others don’t want to be touched. The staff should know how to approach your child if they see him or her unsupervised. If there are staff members who are more likely to run into this situation, such as security guards, introduce your child to them.
3. Consider Getting a Wandering Device
Modern technology has made it easier to keep track of our children with GPS and other tracking methods. Many of these look like watches, and a few of them even tell time. Some can be turned on when needed, while others will send an alert if they go out of a predetermined safe zone. They’re also designed so that they cannot be removed by the child and are waterproof.
4. Double-Check the Facilities
Most schools now have fences around their property. These can help, but double check that the gate is something your child can’t easily open. Also check inside the school. Are the doors constantly open, or are they closed in the classrooms? Are the exits right in the view of the teachers, or could your child slip away? Try to identify potential danger zones and figure out how to address them.
5. Try to Integrate Visual Prompts
Some parents who have ASD children have had success using red STOP or WAIT signs in their home. If your child will respond to these visual prompts, then figure out a way to use them at the school. For example, you could put the same sign on the door out of the classroom or on the door out of the school. Talk to your school administrator to see how they can work with you.
6. Work on Consistency
ASD children respond well to consistent structures, schedules, and messages. If you have a successful system or schedule at home, try to stick to it during the school year. If you have time before the year starts, try to create a similar schedule to match the school, such as staying inside for a certain amount of time each day.
7. Remember You’re Not Alone
Having your ASD child go off to school isn’t something you have to deal with on your own. You’ve got a whole team of staff members and teachers at the school who are on your side. Be ready to ask for help and become good friends with them. It’ll go a long way to making things easier.