From the Director
By Tonia Ferguson
Director, Autism NOW Center
I am sure everyone has heard the motto, “Be Prepared”. National disasters such as flood, fire, earthquakes, tornadoes, and even windstorms affect thousands of people every year. In these instances, you must be able to be prepared beforehand so you can protect yourself, your family, and community. Another disaster that hits home in the disability community is that of wandering and elopement. With little public understanding about autism-related wandering, coupled with a lack of resources, autism elopement remains a leading cause of fatalities among children and adults on the autism spectrum.
It’s important as a family to familiarize yourself with the dangers of wandering and elopement and prepare for the unexpected by developing a family emergency plan. The emergency plan may be different and unique for each family. However, knowing the actions to take for each emergency will impact the specific decisions and preparations you make as a family. Your emergency plan may include a first responder alert form or a wandering plan, as well as an Individual Education Program that may ensure your child’s safety outside of the home. No matter what you include in the family emergency plan, it is critical that you are preparing your family to react in an emergency.
Once you have established your family’s emergency plan, make sure your family and community members are trained and retrained in the possible emergencies they may encounter during wandering or an elopement, the emergency procedures they should follow, any first aid or rescue procedures, and the location of emergency response equipment. Emergencies in life cannot be eliminated, but if you have an emergency plan in place and have trained your family and community to respond quickly and appropriately you can optimize efficiency, relieve anxiety, and save lives.
Being prepared is just not for scouts, we owe it to our families and communities. Join us in saving lives and create your family emergency plan today. Visit www.autismnow.org
for resources and information on emergency preparedness and remember: Be prepared!
From the Co-Director
Preparedness for Individuals Who Tend to Wander or Flee
By Amy Goodman
Co-Director, Autism NOW Center
When winter comes, people often try to prepare themselves for the cold weather, snow, and any potential emergencies that can go along with bad weather. Even though the season encourages us to pack survival materials into our cars in case we get stuck in a snowdrift or pack extra tissues in our pockets for colds from temperature changes, it is important to remember on emergencies may occur at any time. One emergency situation that should always be a consideration is preparedness to help ensure the safety and security of individuals who tend to wander, flee, or run. Though people often think of wandering as something that occurs during the summer, wandering can occur at any time of the year.
According to a survey conducted by the Interactive Autism Network Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, nearly half of all children with autism wander, and 25 percent of parents responded that the child went missing long enough to cause a significant safety concern. This statistic is concerning because people with Autism Spectrum Disorder who wander tend to have a higher risk of injury, trauma or death. About 66 percent of respondents to this survey said that their child had a “close call” with traffic-related injuries and 32 percent of parents said that they had a close call with a possible drowning.
Because of the higher risk of injury, trauma and death associated with wandering, it is important for loved ones of people with autism and other developmental disabilities to prepare for and plan for the possibility that your loved one may wander.
Some suggestions for planning include:
Securing your home with locks on exterior doors and interior doors and cabinets and/or with home security alarms;
Considering purchasing a tracking device that can locate individuals or ID bracelets that include important contact and medical information about your loved one;
Using a visual sign, like a stop sign on doors, to communicate to the person fleeing that they should stop;
Using social stories, schedules, modeling, signs, and other forms of teaching to help your loved one understand and know how to be safe;
Giving your neighbors your contact information, and explaining a loved one’s tendency to wander so that neighbors can assist in monitoring your loved one; and
Providing first responders with information before a wandering incident occurs so that they may be aware of any medical, sensory, or dietary issues as well as your loved one’s likes and dislikes.
While these suggestions may seem drastic, wandering, fleeing, or running can occur at any time and any place; so, it is important have a comprehensive plan in order to avoid the possibility for your loved one to have trauma or injury as a result of wandering.
For more information and suggestions on wandering or fleeing, please visit:
Emergency Preparedness for People with Developmental Disabilities
By Jennifer Sladen
Program Associate, Autism NOW Center
Here in Washington, DC, February has been relatively mild – coaxing people into a sense that the weather will stay mild and pleasant forever. So, while we are all granted a temporary reprieve from the winter weather, it is important to develop and review emergency plans when disasters – natural and otherwise – strike.
Disasters and emergencies create challenges for all people; however, for people with autism and other developmental disabilities, emergencies may also present additional challenges to daily routines and to the ability to communicate with first responder teams. These challenges arise because emergencies often result basic services like water, gas, or electricity being cut off. Without these services, typical routines like carrying out basic personal care, eating, and using medical equipment that needs electricity become more complicated or impossible. Additionally, interacting with first responders from the community may be difficult because of a lack of knowledge on the part of the responder and/or an inability of a person with autism and other developmental disabilities to express themselves, their needs, and injuries in an emergency situation.
As a result of these challenges, people with autism and other developmental disabilities and their families should think about planning and preparing for emergency and disaster situations. Four key steps are involved in emergency preparedness planning. These include:
Finding out the types of disasters that may occur in your area, what community plans are in place in case a disaster occurs, and what types of assistance programs may be available for people with disabilities in emergencies;
Developing a plan that includes preventive training and drills and visual aids for first responders and people with autism and/or other developmental disabilities so that everyone knows where to go, what to do, and how to interact during emergencies;
Assembling a kit of materials – medical supplies and medicines for injuries or illness, survival materials like flashlights and blankets, and non-perishable food and distilled water - that a family or person with autism and/or other developmental disabilities may need in an emergency situation; and
Maintaining your plan and supplies and reviewing the plan periodically with all family members, with trusted neighbors, and with any other person who may need to know so that everyone can help ensure that the emergency plan is followed.
Unfortunately, even with these plans, disaster may occur. However, with planning, most of the confusion and difficulties can be overcome.
For more detailed information about planning, safety kits, tips for what to do during disasters, check out the following websites: