Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Come back here! Elopement Tricks & Tips

Let's talk about child elopement. No, it doesn't refer to two children running off to get married. Elopement, according to the Autism Community, is when a person leaves an area without permission or notification which usually leads to placing that person in a dangerous situation.

Jaycee's Down syndrome, intellectual disability, and limited verbal skills have contributed to her running off or wandering off for several years.

Sometimes, she runs off because she is scared and is trying to get to a place where she feels safer.
Sometimes, she goes off on her own because she is curious.
Sometimes, she is mad at me and wants to do something that I told her not to do.
Other times, it is unclear why she wanders off.

Elopement is scary. Jaycee doesn't understand when things aren't safe for her. She doesn't know that a car could hit her if she runs through a parking lot. She doesn't know that if we get separated, people won't know who she is.

During the past 18 months, Jaycee has gotten much better. But, every once in awhile, she will dart away from me still. Having a child who does this makes you do simple tasks differently in order to keep them safe. Most of the time, I don't think about what I am doing. I'm just use to doing things a certain way for Jaycee because I have dealt with this behavior for about 7 years now.

Here's a list of things I do to keep Jaycee safe:
-At church, I never pray with my eyes closed if Jaycee is with me. I look at the floor and try to keep a visual on her instead. I will close my eyes if she is holding my hand, since I know where she is that way.

-When Jaycee was younger, I almost always held her wrist, not her hand in public. She could break away easier if we held hands, so I learned the wrist was a much safer option.

-Now that Jaycee is older, I do have a "get a hand rule." I say this to her so that she will hold her brother's hand or mine while walking in public. Even if she holds her brother's hand, it seems to help cue her to stay with us. I tend to know now when hand holding won't cut it and when the wrist method is needed.

-I never open my car door until I'm absolutely ready to exit the vehicle with Jaycee. If I open my door (which unlocks Jaycee's door) and hesitate by gathering my purse or phone, then she has a few extra seconds to have an opportunity to jump out and go without me.

-Our house can never have too many locks! Deadbolts are always used. The door to the pool outside has 3 locks on it, including one so high that she cannot reach it. Perhaps it is overkill, but it makes me feel better about her safety. One of our doors still has a toddler door knob cover on it to prevent her from reaching the garage.
Door to the pool with three locks and a stop sign

-My "Stop. Ask mom." signs on two of my doors have done well with Jaycee too. I resisted putting these up for a long time because I didn't want a stop sign in my home. But, I will say that they have worked with Jaycee. Visuals help her understand.

-If we are visiting someone's home, I make myself aware of the possible exits for Jaycee. If there are multiple exits, I will most likely be stressed out watching all the doors while trying to give Jaycee some freedom.

-I wrote Jaycee a few social stories when she was in pre-school. Social stories are personalized stories to reinforce a behavior, teach a rule, or address some other issue in hopes that the child will have better understanding. I wrote Jaycee two stories. One story was about going out with mom. This story reminded Jaycee to hold mom's hand and how to be safe in public places. My second story was about swimming. This reminded Jaycee she must always swim with mom and never get into the pool by herself. I don't know if these stories helped her understand. But, it reinforced what I was teaching her.
A page in the swimming social story

-Keeping Jaycee secured is the easiest way to keep her from running off in public. We use a medical stroller/wheelchair in public with Jaycee for two reasons. First, she tires easily and cannot walk long distances. Secondly, the stroller keeps her seated and prevents her from running off. I cannot take Jaycee shopping without her running off. She wants to explore the store and not wait for me to get what I need. Have you ever momentarily lost your child in a store? It's a scary second or two. Jaycee does not understand waiting, staying with me, or places that don't have a specific routine (like going down different aisles in a store). The stroller has been a very good way for me to keep Jaycee safe, especially when I have both children out by myself.

Are you dealing with elopement with your child? I hope these tricks and tips have been useful for you.

If you have an extra tip, please feel free to comment below!

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