Navigating Autism and Wandering

Autism can sometimes lead to unexpected behaviors from those with the diagnosis. This is often related to verbal communication challenges and reactions to stimuli or stress. 

Parents of autistic children may be very familiar with a common challenge: wandering. But this worry can extend to adults with an autism diagnosis as well. 

As we see with the story of Matthew and his mother, Bonnie, a medical ID can be a valuable tool. It can help keep someone safe from wandering dangers such as traffic and other hazards. It can also reunite them with their loved ones no matter their age. 

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Wandering fears

Although he was diagnosed with autism at a very young age, 20-year old Matthew didn’t have a wandering incident until he became a teenager. Matthew first wandered from his high school campus. A few months later, he left the house in the middle of the night. Matthew’s mother Bonnie decided it was time to enroll him in MedicAlert.

These wandering incidents have become all-too-familiar for Bonnie. He has wandered  multiple times during the past three years. But it wasn’t until July 30, 2016 that the danger became very real. 

We have relied on MedicAlert many times to help bring Matthew home safely after he’s wandered,” she explained. “But when he left during the night last summer, he was gone for a much longer period of time. Matthew ended up further away from home than ever before. If not for MedicAlert, I don’t know what would have happened to my son.”

According to Bonnie, Matthew typically wanders anytime they are on a break from school and not in structured routine. One night over the summer, Bonnie awoke around 4am, and Matthew was not in his bed. Upon realizing Matthew had wandered once again, her first call was to local law enforcement and then MedicAlert.

When the MedicAlert Emergency Response Specialist answered, Bonnie was understandably alarmed. MedicAlert confirmed what Matthew was last wearing and when he was last seen to ensure the exact details. Then, the information was relayed to the Los Angeles County law enforcement agency.

The best decision I ever made to help give me peace of mind when Matthew wanders was getting his MedicAlert bracelet.

Communicating autism

Hours later, a California Highway Patrol officer called MedicAlert. 

He was sitting with Matthew who had been located wandering northbound on Interstate 110, near the Pacific Coast Highway intersection. The officer immediately noticed Matthew’s bracelet which read Autism-Nonverbal. 

MedicAlert’s Emergency Response Specialist provided the officer with Matthew’s critical health information and confirmed their location. 

Bonnie was then brought onto the line for a three-way call. The officer communicated to Bonnie that he was concerned for Matthew’s health as he seemed dehydrated.

The officer had requested for paramedic assistance on-scene. He informed Bonnie that Matthew was being transferred to a local hospital facility. Bonnie was extremely grateful for the attention given to Matthew and was able to quickly reunite with him at the hospital.

The best decision I ever made to help give me peace of mind when Matthew wanders was getting his MedicAlert bracelet. Everyone is always so helpful, and I know law enforcement and MedicAlert will help bring him back to us unharmed.” 

Facts About

About 10% of people with autism spectrum disorder also have another genetic, neurological, or metabolic disorder.

Hyperlexia, the ability to read above one’s age or grade level in school, commonly accompanies autism spectrum disorder.

There is currently no medical detection blood test or cure for autism spectrum disorder.

Autism and wandering

As Matthew’s story illustrates, being prepared for a possible wandering emergency with a MedicAlert ID and Protection Plan provides extra support and peace of mind at every stage of life. 

It’s critical to take these steps to protect a loved one and provide important information to first responders in the event of an emergency. One recent study showed that almost a third of wandering cases reported due to autism resulted in injury or death. 

MedicAlert has a long history of protecting its members during emergencies. Because of this, you can be sure that anyone helping a person who has wandered will be able to contact family members quickly and provide the right kind of medical care.

This is especially important for autistic teenagers and adults who are nonverbal, since they may have challenges in communicating these essential details to anyone who tries to intervene. Thankfully, with a medical ID from MedicAlert, each happy ending like Matthew’s is another life saved.

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