Safety Issues and Facts

Safety Issues and Facts


WANDERING:  Individuals with autism may wander away for a number of reasons. It may be sensory, an item they are drawn to, or trying to escape something.  They do not stop to consider how dangerous a situation may be nor the consequences of their behavior. According to the AWAARE website, a 2008 Danish research study shows that death rates of those with Autism were the result of drowning–which typically occurs when the individual wanders away.  Other catastrophic events include over-exposure to weather conditions (i.e. freezing, burns) and being hit by vehicles. There are many reasons an individual may wander. This includes being in an unfamiliar place, curiosity, anxiety, and fear. According to the AWAARE site, wandering seems to occur more often in warm weather conditions.   
EMERGENCY RESPONSE: as well as with wandering individuals with Autism may find themselves in unexpected and unwelcome situations.  They may enter a stranger’s house or business and prompt an interaction with law enforcement.  Additionally, first responders may be summoned to a home where an individual with Autism lives as a result of a neighbor reporting actions that seem bizarre or “abnormal”.  If law enforcement and other first responders 1) do not know there is an individual with Autism at the home and 2) how to handle communication with an individual with Autism, the consequences can be extremely unfortunate.  The individual with Autism can be mistaken for someone who is being intentionally aloof or aggressive. 
ACTION:  Education and training is critical for the emergency response community.  Families need to be prepared if a child wanders away or is faced with an emergency responder.  Families can use Mid-Michigan Autism Association as a resource.  Also see the list of “Related Links and Local Resources”.   Additionally there are proactive measures that can be taken to reduce risks and provide identification for individuals with Autism at the “Personal Identification and Preventative Options” link.


According to the Centers for Disease Control    CDC ASD HOME

·    Average of 1 in every 68 children have an ASD

·    Parents who have 1 child with ASD have a 2-8% chance of having another child with ASD.

·    Approximately 40% of children with an ASD do not talk at all and many will present as non-verbal when highly stressed.

·    Individuals with autism cannot be identified by appearance–they look like everyone else!  They are identified by their behaviors.


According to the National Autism Association Report National Autism Association

·   Approximately 92% of parents reported their ASD child has a tendency to wander (National Autism Association Report)


According to an article by Dennis Debbaudt (2007) in The Organization for Autism Research:

·   Individuals with ASD’s are 7 times more likely to come into contact with police than  their peers

·   Families with autism  look to officials for assistance with wandering while trying to deal with pressure and criticism from neighbors, social service professionals, law enforcement; often putting up fences, alarm systems on doors and windows

·  The autism community is well aware of autism-based safety issues and taking steps to address it

·   School-based awareness is imperative! This includes custodians, secretarial staff, transportation, cafeteria, teachers, and administration; often these individuals will be viewed as teachers and be sought out; kids with autism are also targets for bullying

·   Teach students with autism Risk Life Education and Safety Awareness


According to an the Autism Society of America (ASA):

·   Per a 2007 survey conducted by ASA of individuals with ASD and their families, 35% had been a victim of a crime and 23% “had interactions with first responders due to wandering or eloping”.

·   First responders must understand that autism is a spectrum disorder and all individuals effected with ASD have different levels of verbal capability, cognitive skills, and may respond differently to varying environmental stimuli.

·   Education of law enforcement and first responders is imperative and improves ability to provide effective interactions.


Other supporting research:

·   A study conducted by Cashin and Newman (2009) in Australia found that being in custodial confines and adhering to regimes and routes is very difficult for individuals with autism; even when detained for short periods they are often targets of bullying and mistreatment (pp. 71-74).

·   According to Farley et al (2009) studying law enforcement and outcomes of adults with autism, 34% of higher functioning participants [who were now adults] had previous interactions with law enforcement due to an actual infraction, or misinterpretation due to a communication issue with the individual with autism (p. 114).

·   Per Britton and Taylor (2010) in an article on the Operation Autism (A Resource Guide for Military Families), parents of children with autism fear their child will get lost and not be able to communicate effectively for their own safety–they cannot differentiate between safe and unsafe situations, follow instructions consistently, or have the ability to defend himself; they suggest in addition to securing homes and yards, notifying law enforcement and neighbors, registering child with national registry and having identification, the family should also consider the following:  plan ahead for family outings and vacations and teaching child functional skills.