Monday, June 17, 2013

When Kids With Special Needs Wander (Elope) {a guest post by Staci Conrad}

Last week I wrote about conducting a stakeout outside my daughter's school because I was terrified of her bolting during recces. If you didn't get to read that post, please do so, I did my best attempt at being funny in light of a real concern we have for our little eloper.

My friend Staci responded by sending me some links for me to look at in case some of those worked for us. I was so impressed with all the information she had, I asked her to write a blog post, and she did!

So let;s welcome Staci and the advice and resources she has for any parent that has a kid with special needs that wanders (or a typical kid that struggles with this too!)


Wandering…eloping…these words strike fear in the core of many special needs parents.  I have tried to find some stats to share with you, but it seems that no one collects this data!? Most sites just say that “TOO MANY” children with disabilities wander off each year and many of them aren’t found in time.

Why do kids wander?  Some get distracted and some just NEED to explore.  Many are impulsive and have no understanding of consequences.  That is the case for my precious wanderer.  

The International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) has added a code for wandering that was effective October 1, 2011.  It is designed to promote better data collection and understanding of wandering, and to prompt important discussions about safety among healthcare providers, caregivers, and the person with a disability to the fullest extent possible.  If your child is a wanderer, please talk to your provider and have this code added to your child’s official diagnoses. 

There are several safety devices available to help keep track of your loved one.  Even though you watch them like a hawk, they are so sneaky!  Everyone has to blink sometimes and that’s all it takes, especially at crowded events. 

Mine likes to take off at night time.  I have an alarm on her bedroom door and window.  I also have STOP signs on each door that leads outside.  I am going to add another lock to the back door, as she recently got out at 4AM.  There are lots of printable resources at:

For those interested in what technology has to offer, I have compiled the following list of resources that vary considerably in price.  Many of these are still not financially feasible for most special needs families. Although it might be possible to get state waivers or family support funding to help alleviate the cost.  (I could not reach our case worker to confirm or deny.)  These are only a sample of what is out there!  Be sure to look around to see what might fit your family the best.  

Adiant Solutions
Adiant Solutions is revolutionizing the GPS industry by providing solutions that transform lives. You are in control… you decide how to better manage "what matters most". Whether you are looking for tracking devices that locate a wanderer with dementia, a child with autism who is eloping, a low-level criminal, your fleet or cargo, or even a teen driver, we have the answer with our easy-to-use, customizable technology. Adiant's products ensure that people and property are where they belong…..and when. The devices are easy to use and can be managed from any computer or smart phone with Adiant's easy-to-use LocationNow Software.

Care Trak
The Original Law Enforcement Rescue Program that electronically tracks people with Alzheimer's who wander and special needs kids. Sheriffs, Police, Fire Departments, SAR Teams, etc. use Care Trak to quickly locate at risk individuals.

The Emergency Locator Device "EmSeeQ" helps rapidly locate and recover your loved ones via the 9-1-1 cellular network.

EZ100 Personal Emergency Notifier and GPS Tracker
The EZ-100 from EYEZ gives families of wandering special needs children added peace of mind and the confidence to engage in activities and adventures with the whole family.

LifePROTEKT is dedicated to providing care givers, individuals and organizations with the most superior, innovative personal location based GPS technologies available while providing a network of support for those who care for special needs individuals. We want to give back to those communities who rely on our technology to assist them in safeguarding their loved ones.

LoJack SafetyNet
Personal locator bracelets for individuals with autism with a tendency to wander. After contacting authorities when your loved one goes missing, law enforcement and public safety officials use LoJack Search and Rescue Receivers to track the radio signal being emitted from the Personal Locator Bracelet on your loved one's wrist or ankle.

Loved One Locator from Mobile Health Technologies LLC
Mobile Health Technologies provides the ultimate solution for Mobile Personal Safety - Anytime, Anywhere. ASD children at risk for bolting should not be without our products! Our service combines on-demand GPS location, automatic alerts when a user leaves a pre-defined "safe zone", and Automatic Fall Detection. Our devices also feature 2-way voice, and 24/7 monitoring by EMTs.

Please Find My Kid 
What do you do when a loved one suddenly disappears? If your loved one were using SecuraPal or LifeTrac, you could simply go to a secure web interface and find them on a map. With SecuraPal and LifeTrac you get peace of mind and your loved one gets to keep the independence they deserve and desire.

Project Lifesaver International
Project Lifesaver International helps provide rapid response to save lives and reduce potential for serious injury for adults and children who wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism, Down syndrome, dementia and other related cognitive conditions. Project Lifesaver provides equipment, training, certification and support to law enforcement, public safety organizations and community groups throughout the country and nation.

I have just one final tip for special needs families with wanderers today.  Please let your neighbors know that you have a wanderer.  Just a couple of other families on your block that know to watch out for your child can be a huge help!  

Staci is a follower of Christ, single-momma to 2 amazing adopted girls with special needs, and foster mom to many. Staci blogs at Our Different Reality you can also follow her on twitter @stacianne


  1. Hi Ellen! I just went over and read your stakeout blog post, and I am curious: did you ever try to get an answer out of Nichole as to WHY she runs off? Might she have a specific reason (like her later fascination with the basketball hoop, as you mentioned) or could it just be that she does get distracted and doesn't really know why?

    I'm not trying to sound naive or dumb, as I said I'm just curious...

    1. Sabrina, we really don't know. That time I really think it was the basketball hoop. Other times, I think it is sensory overload and she needs to get away. Yest other times, like when she has gotten out of the house, that is when it baffles me, that is a situation we don't know and she is yet not able to tell us. I thinks sometimes she just wants to go!

  2. Hi, Ellen.

    I found your blog recently when our 10th baby was born and diagnosed with Ds. Prenatal screening was negative so we were completely unprepared and trying to get a crash course. Anyway, he is 7 weeks now and life is starting to return to some sort of normal. This post caught my attention because the day after Addison's diagnosis was confirmed my husband said we need to build a fence. That was the farthest thing from my mind as we navigated the world of karyotypes, heart defects and GI malformations. But we live at the intersection of 3 roads, one being a highway. 30 years ago our neighbors lost their five year old when she wandered into the highway and was hit by a car. We have no idea if this will be a problem for our boy but I am printing this post and filing it away just in case. I was wondering if Nicole's nocturnal wandering could be more sleep walking? Our 10 year old, who does not have special needs, is a sleep walker and will often wake up in odd places. He never has any recollection of how he got there. Times when he is over tired or stressed seem to be the trigger for sleep walking. When we hear Him wandering we know it is time to slow down and to have him take an afternoon nap.

    1. Hi Kathleen,

      My daughter does not wander at night, thankfully, but my friend's daughter does (this is her guest post). My oldest does sleep walk, and she has since she was little, although she has never tried to get outside of the house!

      Our issues with wandering are when we are already outside (mainly) or if a door is left ajar or is easy to open to the outside, then she will go for it. If you click at the beginning of this post, I have a link to a post I did write regarding my daughter and her wandering. At this stage in life, school, specifically recces, is the most concerning.

      As for getting a fence, yes, I would recommend you do that :) Not that all kids with Ds are wanderers, but it does seems as if most are. :)

      So glad you left a comment!

  3. Most of those resources she listed are insanely expensive.

    A nice (affordable) alternative is a GPS collar for dogs. You fasten the GPS portion onto an anklet or bracelet. We got one for about $75 and it works the same as the "human" versions -- you just track the location on your phone or computer.

    Hope that helps! :-)

    1. Great idea, but does it look like a dog collar? Or are they stylish enough to pass for jewelry?

    2. Sure, we made ours pretty. :-)
      The GPS portion detaches from the collar, so you can attach it to virtually any bracelet, really.
      The GPS portion looks like a size/shape of a small plastic watch face in appearance. Fairly small. We put it on a pretty woven seed bead bracelet, so it looks like a watch band. Though when we were brainstorming what to put it on, we considered a kitty collar -- my daughter found a pretty glittery cat collar, so it was small and thin, but I talked her out of it in favour of the bracelet. So the collar went to the kitty. LOL


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