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During the summer months, children will spend a lot of their free time outside. So, it’s important to have a plan in place to prevent wandering and elopement of children on the spectrum. OAR’s Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide to Safety has useful tips on how to explain autism and your child’s tendency to wander to your neighbors. Engaging your neighbors and making them part of your extended safety network can help you and your family prevent a possible emergency and help manage one if it arises.

Introduce your child to your neighbors.

When explaining autism and wandering to neighbors, it is always a good idea to let them meet your child. Introduce your child to your neighbors so that they’re as familiar with each other as possible. Describe your child’s tendencies, preferences, and what rules you have in place about being outdoors unsupervised.

Let your neighbors know how to get in touch with you.

One idea is to leave a flyer with your contact information and a picture of your child with each neighbor that you can trust. Ask them to call the number on the flyer immediately if they see your loved one wandering unaccompanied, and to notify the authorities if they cannot reach you or anyone at your home.

Advise neighbors on how to approach your child.

To better prepare them for interacting with your child, tell them a little about autism and let them know that your autistic child may:

  • Fixate on things that others might not, such as water or trains.
  • Be sensitive to loud noises and bright light.
  • Not make eye contact, respond to commands, or come when their name is called.

Tell your neighbors that if they have the opportunity to approach your child who has wandered off, they should:

  • Speak calmly and softly.
  • Avoid using figurative language (e.g., slang).
  • Allow for a delayed response.
  • Be prepared to repeat themselves.

Strongly advise against any behaviors that would likely cause your child to keep wandering.


Additional Ideas for Water Safety:

If your neighborhood has many nearby bodies of water (e.g. pools, lakes, ponds, beach, etc.), consider bringing up these additional safety ideas to your neighbors to prevent emergency water situations. Remember: always ask permission to search pools or other bodies of water on private property.

  • Ask your neighbors if there are locks that prevent someone from accessing water sources; if not, then ask about potentially installing them.
  • If your neighbor is amenable to the idea, then suggest putting up stop signs on the doors leading to any water sources.

Community involvement is important for keeping our autistic loved ones safe. We encourage you to share this information with your neighbors, family, and friends.


This post was adapted from Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide to Safety. Click here to order or download the guide.