Diallo Alex Jr, age10, is a ‘runner’ – a term given to children who are constantly wandering off! Diallo is autistic.
The Case Study of Diallo and his Wandering Instincts
Like many kids with autism, his reaction to sound, is different from normal children.
He enjoys the clicking sound of a pen, or the tinkling of spoon on cups and plates. He seems to enjoy the thuds of the doors that his mother keeps locked fearing the child’s safety.
Diallo feels excited when he hears a sound and tries to explore it, and at times, starts searching the origin of the sound.
His curiosity makes his wander in search of the sound that had caught his interest. Many other children, who suffer from ASD behave like Diallo.
They prefer exploring, by themselves, choosing voluntarily to be away from crowd. Free, open space, away from the overwhelming interaction and sound, is what they seek.
Unfortunately, for parents like Cassandra Burgess-Alex, Daillo’s mother, the habit of wandering away is a due cause of worry. Cassandra, a single mum, stays up at night, keeping an eye for her son, in case he goes wandering off.
Diallo suffers from language impairment, and is not capable of expressing himself clearly.
The condition is getting worse as he is growing up. He has developed the habit of wandering away from home, and has been set back by caring neighbours and at times even the police.
Cassandra has fitted her son with an identification bracelet, added locks that Diallo cannot unlock, and manage to keep him under constant supervision.
Understandably, Cassandra worries about her son “it’s a valid fear that I have, that no one can understand. And you live with this fear, constantly.”
Children like Diallo cannot understand the concept of ‘safety’. Their minds are often singular in direction. They can be clever and can spend hours in what interests them and can be extremely impatient with things that does not.
In Diallo’s case, it is sound and he is clever enough to unlock the doors.
The thing about “Being Autistic” and a “Wanderer”
Autism, is a well known subject of discussion now, and help is available is many forms, however, daily life with autistic children can be a struggle. This struggle is something that parents deal with everyday, and here no therapy or medication helps much.
Wandering away is a dangerous scenario for a language impaired child with neurobehavioral impairment. Parents are increasingly taking help of electronic bracelet given by the police, iPhone tracking devices and new home security devices.
A research by AutismSpeaks found out that autistic children are more likely to wander off compared to normal children of similar age and, they start to do so from an age as early as 4. They can be gone long enough to cause concern to their parents and at time their chances of getting into accidents are noticeably high.
The director of Sacramento Autistic Spectrum & Special Needs Alliance, Dave Gaines says that many children within the ASD do not understand the concept of danger and safety.
If left unsupervised, their curiosity can very easily get them in trouble. Being differently abled, they cannot understand or grasp a potentially dangerous situation “There isn’t a development of all the skills we take for granted – the fear of strangers, the idea that fire is hot, the idea that leaving the house is not safe.”
Cassandra, acknowledges that even with extreme vigilance, Diallo still manages to get out and get into trouble “If he wants to run, it’s almost impossible to stop him” a scenario that people with normal children fail to understand.
Strategies to Prevent Wandering Among Kids with Autism
Lisa Brown thanks AngelSense, a tracking app. Both her sons are autistic and tend to wander away. AngelSense includes a GPS tracking device that can be followed by the app along with an audio device “You can breathe a lot easier” she says about AngelSense.
The police department also uses a tracker called Project Lifesaver, which is a electronic bracelet with a tracker, so that the police can come at a moments notice in case of an unfavourable situation.
It is necessary to understand why is the child constantly going away.
Gaines said. “If the issue is that the child is impulsively wanting to go to that place, the skill the child is missing is a waiting skill. It involves a program of teaching the child to wait and rewarding waiting. The child learns that I’ll get what I want, but it’s even better if I wait.”