It has been four years now since my daughter was diagnosed with autism. Over those years, I have conquered so many issues including lack of sleep, hyperactivity, and anger among others.
About three years ago, she started wandering off the home compound. I would panic every time I missed her in the house for more than a few minutes. When I take her to an amusement park, I always have to keep a keen eye on her.
I started researching the issue and realized that wandering affects many children with ASD (Austism Spectrum Disorder). I have tried different things and some of them have worked wonderfully for my daughter.
Learn to Identify Triggers
Many triggers made my daughter wander off. If there were nothing of interest in the house or the amusement park, she would wander off until she found something that interested her. She would also walk away from a stressful situation, frightening places, or places with bright lights, loud noises and a lot of commotion.
I now observe her keenly to see when she is stressed or not interested, and ensure she is comfortable. This way, she doesn’t wander off.
Secure the Home
My daughter is seven years but I still have to keep her safe by locking the gate and ensuring there are no openings on our live fence. Even when I feel that she is happy and interested inside the house, I still keep the gate under lock and key. I have an alarm on doors in my house to notify me when my daughter moves in or out of the room.
Use Monitoring and Tracking Devices
I have to be vigilant at all times. My husband feels like I am too much. However, monitoring and tracking devices have helped me more than once locate my daughter in a crowd. My daughter, just like other children with ASD, is not able to communicate her name and address. I use a medical alert device called Mobilehelp and tracking devices to ensure I know where she is at all times.
Tracking devices are simple and she can wear them everywhere. I feel settled knowing whenever my daughter wanders off; I can always track her. I get updates on my phone wherever she goes.
Teach Communication and Behavior Strategies
Though it takes time, my daughter learns with repeated action. Over the years, I have created a routine for her to follow. She loves sameness, just like any other child with ASD, and that has helped me teach her how to calm herself when she feels stressed. There is a teddy bear that she carries everywhere. When she feels stressed, she always takes her teddy bear to play with it.
While she would respond to ‘no’ with tantrums, today she can calm herself when she is told ‘no’. It has not been easy teaching her that she cannot get everything she needs, especially when we are shopping in a store. Because I cannot teach her alone, I liaise with teachers, my husband, and family friends.
Make Sure She Sleeps Enough
Sleeping was an issue when my daughter was first diagnosed with autism. I had noticed patterns of sleeplessness and hyperactivity during the night and I resolved to find a solution for the sleep problem. I established a sleeping routine that involves her getting ready for bed an hour before bedtime. She engages in calming activities such as listening to a story I read her, light massage, or just cuddling her teddy bear. She is accustomed to that routine and she sleeps better.
By sleeping enough during the night, she is less hyperactive during the day and this helps keep her safe from wandering.
Her room is always ready for her—less noise, less light, fewer distractions, and a more comfortable bed with weighted blankets.
I vowed to understand my daughter. It is the best way to keep her safe. Instead of reacting to every situation with a lecture, I learned to anticipate specific behavior for specific situations. Today, I can tell, with near certainty, when she will wander off.