40 Ways To Keep Wandering Children Safe
I have a runner… like I’ve had to call the police three different times because my autistic child is so smart about escaping he wiggles out of my sight like a slippery fish in my hands.
In my defense, I, personally, only lost him once- the first time when he slipped out the backdoor that had a faulty latch. The second time my sister was watching him and he managed to squeeze under a gate we were sure he was too big for. The third time Levi was lost from sight during a hike in the woods with a close friend of mine.
Having a child who elopes is, for me, the scariest part of motherhood. I’m always trying to stay one step ahead of him. I’ve had some sleepless nights of worrying when he’ll figure out how to pick locks or wondering what kind of quality of life we have when my son’s safety is compromised the minute we walk outside.
Statistically, 1 in 3 autistic children will elope at some point in their lives. A third of those elopers are nonverbal so they’re unable to communicate their names or any information on who they are if they are found.
The number one cause of death for children with autism is drowning (ugh, that makes my heart so sad to type) and that’s because they run, or elope, from a safe place and keep going until they hit a body of water.
Swim lessons for autistic children are so important.
The first line of defense is knowing your options as far as safety measures and having a plan.
I’ve compiled a list of 40 different ways and products that can help keep wandering children safe.
*This post contains affiliate links*
1. Holding hands
The quickest and easiest way to keep wandering children safe is to keep a tight grip on your little one. If your child is anything like mine, hand holding is great but it’s not enough.
Keep reading for more tips, tricks, and products that can help keep our little ones safe!
2. Notify Neighbors
After Levi ran away the fourth time, I met with my neighbors to discuss the situation. It’s a topic of conversation I bring up as often as I can. Not only have a told my adult neighbors, but I’ve also talked to the children that live around me too.
People don’t understand autism unless they know someone close to them that has autism. I love educating people and especially children.
Often, the kids in my neighborhood ask:
“Can Levi play with us?”
“Why doesn’t Levi say anything?”
I even had one sweet and confident boy say,
“My dad taught me how to talk. You need to teach him better.”
(I didn’t take any offense to that. I see questions and comments like that as a learning opportunity- no matter the age.)
3. Create a visual schedule
Creating a visual schedule can help a child anticipate what is going to happen next.
A lot of autistic children struggle with transitions, like mine. Levi will try to run when we being new tasks. A visual schedule can help a child prepare for what comes next.
4. Have a family plan
It’s important to form a plan with your family just in case your child does run.
Who is running in which direction?
What places would your child go?
Who calls 911?
As hard as these questions are to answer– These are all questions that need to be discussed as a family. Having a plan set into place can make a huge difference if the worst were to happen.
Make a plan.
5. Go out in a group
It’s inevitable that you’ll have to go out into the world alone with your child but as often as you can- take someone with you that can help.
An extra set of hands and eyes can make a huge difference.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
6. “Stop and Go” Games
When Levi started running he didn’t understand what the word, “stop”.
We worked with therapist playing games where Levi and I would hold hands, say “GO”, run, and then say “STOP” while we stopped.
Use any opportunity you can to teach the word, “STOP”.
Sometimes when I’m walking with Levi, I’ll just randomly stop and verbalize the word, “STOP”. It can be a fun game that also teaches safety.
Co-sleeping isn’t for everyone. I’m not suggesting that you change your current sleeping situation by putting this on my list.
Levi and I have been co-sleeping since he was born (he’s four now). It’s our normal.
I’m a single mom who hasn’t really dated in five years. I had tried once to transition Levi into his own bed but after he started running I decided it was better to wait. I lock my bedroom door from the inside so he can’t sneak out of the room. I sleep a thousand times knowing Levi is right next to me.
I know if he was sleeping in his own room, I’d be up all night checking to make sure he’s still there.
8. Sensory Breaks
Children can be triggered by sensory overload and run.
This summer I took Levi to this outdoor craft festival and it was PACKED. Levi did really well at first but after a while, I could tell he needed a break. I took him around the back of a merchant tent where we were alone and things were quiet. We sat there for about thirty minutes decompressing. I think I enjoyed the break as much as he did. Large crowds make me uncomfortable too.
9. Plan short trips
As much as possible, try to keep short trips. If you normally do all your errands and shopping in one day- maybe break it up into two days or take breaks at home in between errands to give your child some time to unwind.
11. Body sock
As with the weighted vest, a body sock won’t keep a child from running but it aids with sensory regulation. Preventive tools such as the weighted vest and body sock are great tools for children who are easily overwhelmed.
12. Kids Safety Ear Muffs
Noise-reducing ear muffs can keep a child calm in social situations that might overstimulate a child. Levi has these exact same ear muffs but he hates having things on his head sometimes so they don’t work for us right now but I keep trying. Maybe someday he’ll enjoy wearing these.
13. Familiarize your child with neighborhood
Take your child for walks around the neighborhood so they become familiar to the area. Take note of the places around your home that your child enjoys going to. If
14. Swing Bar Door Lock
I have this same lock on my front and back door. I know Levi will eventually be able to reach up and unlock it but for now it’s a cheap solution that works for us.
15. Door Security Bar
I was confused by this picture when I first saw it but I saw that it’s mainly for sitting in the base of a sliding back door. This is definitely a great way to secure sliding doors in your house.
16. Hook Lock
I have hook locks on all of my doors inside my house. My little one is constantly trying to get into closets where he shouldn’t be. These are a cheap and quick fix to keep him from opening doors he doesn’t need to.
I don’t think these would work on a taller and older child but they work for my four-year-old now.
17. August Smart Lock Pro (Alexa)
Control and monitor your door from anywhere. Lock and unlock your door, control keyless access and keep track of who comes and goes, all from your phone.
18. August Smart Lock 3rd Generation
Secure, keyless entry for your smart home. Lock and unlock your door, control keyless access and keep track of who comes and goes, all from your phone.
19. Keyed Hasp Lock
This lock is on my front door right now. I love how it needs a key to open.
My little one hasn’t learned how to pick locks (yet) so this is my favorite lock we have right now.
20. Steel Chain Door Guard
This is a classic and budget-friendly way to keep your doors safe and secure.
21. Schlage Z-Wave Connect Camelot Touchscreen Deadbolt
This touchscreen deadbolt lock connects with Alexa. It stores up to 30 different security codes, has an alarm, and allows you to lock or unlock your doors with your phone.
This product is amazing. It’s a portable door lock that requires ZERO tools. You can take it with you wherever you go to keep your child safe and secure.
23. Barrel Bolt
24. Keyed Door Knob Lever
BACKPACKS AND HARNESSES
25. Skip Hop Toddler Leash and Harness Backpack
This is the exact backpack I saw on a child at Disneyland when I was a teenager. I remember thinking that whatever parent put a child in one of these must be cruel.
HA! Now I own this backpack and happily put my child in it. Turns out teenage Nicole was an idiot who knew nothing about motherhood or special needs children. Life had a way of humbling me.
26. Goldbug – Animal 2 in 1 Child Safety Harness
Friendly, plush animal harness/backpack keeps child close and safe, giving your little one the freedom and confidence to walk on their own.
Blisstime Anti Lost Wrist Link Safety Wrist Link
Keep toddlers close to you and at the same time give them independence during indoor or outdoor activities.
28. Anti Lost Wrist Link with Harness
This pack has a soft double layers of hook and loop for kids’ hands, not easy to take off by themselves. The size of wrist strap can be adjusted according to your need.
29. Hand Belt Band Wristband for Toddlers
Our wrist band are made with an anti-picking strapping system to prevent kids from easily picking the velcro and freeing them selves.
ALARMS AND GPS TRACKERS
30. Safesound Personal Alarms
Simply pull the pin to activate the Personal Alarms while insert the pin in to stop. Really convenient for the elders and older children.
31. Mini GPS Tracker
Small GPS tracker with real-time tracking, display location information automatically to your smart phone. This can easily be placed in a child’s backpack or sewn into clothing for hikes or outdoor activities.
32. Kids GPS Tracker Smartwatch
ACCURATE LOCATION PROVIDED BY GPS+LBS+WIFI of your Kids 3G GPS Tracker gives you all the actual information about your kid’s location, just open the Map in the application and press “Locate”.
33. My Buddy Tag Wristband
Buddy Tag alerts you when your child is out of your proximity, and the proximity setting is adjustable. Buddy Tag alerts you when submerged in water to help prevent accidental drowning. Panic Button on Buddy Tag allows your child to alert you when in need of your help
34. Amcrest Portable Mini Real-Time GPS Tracker
This portable GPS tracking device allows you to create zones that you specifically want to monitor, such as your home to you know when your loved one leaves or returns.
35. Samber Micro Children GPS Tracker Necklace
This cute necklace functions with a SOS hidden help, voice monitoring, vibration alarm, and remote shutdown.
36. Waterproof Kids Smart Watch GPS Tracker
This waterproof smart watch is equipped with LBS and GPS tracker to make sure kids are safe. All day with real-time positioning,tracking and monitoring.
37. Mini Portable Off-grid
Real Time GPS Tracking Device
No Monthly Fee,No SIM Card,No Network Required -goTele outdoor gps tracker allows users to communicate directly from goTele to goTele without cell service or Wi-Fi. This is great for camping or outdoor activities where phone reception are bad.
38. Guardian Angel Tracker
One base controls up to four tags. The base is equipped with direction indicator to speed the search. Both base and tag can be muted while you are searching each other. Works indoors and outdoors. No assembly or installation needed. Light and weight easy to use.
39. Baba Spy Mini GPS
The tracker keeps in connection with your phone through the app iTracing, and you will be informed when they move out of effective distance range.
40. Custom Gates and Doors
I’m lucky enough to have a dad who is handy and great at building things. Each time Levi ran he made custom gates and doors to keep Levi safe. I know not everyone has a handyman in their life but if you do, ask them to help make your house more secure.
If you don’t have any handy men in your life, you’re free to contact me and inquire about getting a custom door or gate made at a fair price by my dad. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hey, I'm Nicole
I'm a blogger and a single mom blessed with the task of raising an extraordinary child on the autism spectrum.