teaching children with autism

Watching Out for Wandering When Teaching Children With Autism


Children on the autism spectrum are more prone to wandering than other children. All parents must be aware of their children’s desire to wander around and discover new things. Autism parenting requires extra attention. It’s not just parents who need to be extra careful if wandering is a problem. When a child with a history of wandering attends school, it’s important that the teachers and administrators know what signs to look for, and how to act if a child goes missing. We’ve assembled a short toolkit of advice about wandering for anyone teaching children with autism:

See If There’s an IEP

If you notice that a child tends to wander off, it’s important to find out if it’s part of a pattern, or just the natural curiosity of childhood. Autistic children who tend to wander usually have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place that deals with the issue. However, it’s possible that you are the first person to make note of this tendency.

If you feel that wandering off is part of a pattern, you should make sure that parents and administrators know about it, and the IEP is updated to include this important information. Autism parenting is easier if everyone is on the same page. An accurate IEP makes that easier.

Write It Down

Once an IEP that mentions wandering is in place, it’s easy to think you’ve done everything you can do to report the problem. That’s a mistake. Wandering is part of a pattern of behavior. The severity and frequency of wandering needs close monitoring. Every time you notice an instance of wandering, it’s important to put it in writing, and make sure that parents know about it.

See If Your School Has a Policy In Place

Teaching children with autism doesn’t always get the support it needs from school systems. Many times, schools don’t have policies in place to help with autism parenting until a problem develops. That means you might suddenly be the person that needs to step up and put a sound wandering policy in place.

Programs to help with things like wandering work best when they’re closely matched to the school itself. Some schools are smaller than others, and present fewer challenges for keeping track of students. Other schools have environmental concerns that make wandering more dangerous than other places, like bodies of water, or very cold outside temperatures. If you notice a potential problem, you can effect change to your school’s security if need be.

Ask About Wandering Prompts

Good educators try to avoid making parents nervous during parent/teacher meetings. That’s great, but only if it doesn’t interfere with good communication. Don’t be afraid to ask parents about any potential triggers for wandering that have come up in the past. For instance, some children are fascinated by bodies of water. If there’s a lake or pool located near a school, it can become a tantalizing attraction for a child who likes to wander. If you know what interests a wandering child, you can take steps to reduce or eliminate exposure to the problem.

Make Introductions

If a child has a tendency to wander, it’s best if they respond well when people are searching for them. Teaching children with autism is usually a joint effort with parents, teachers, and school administrators. It should also involve school security staff. If you’ve identified a child that has a tendency to wander, make a point of introducing them to the people who will look for them when they’re lost.

If a child knows and trusts a school security person, they’re more likely to respond when they’re called. Children with autism and Aspergers tend to like familiar things, and may not even notice people they don’t know and trust. It’s great if school security personnel become friendly with a potential wanderer. Simply becoming familiar with the uniform they wear is helpful. Children who become lost should know who to look for when they realize they’re not where they should be. Give them a familiar face and recognizable clothes to look for.

Teaching Children with Autism Is a Group Effort

Many parents report frustration with schools over integration of their autistic child into everyday education. They’ll be thrilled if you help them make the transition from home to school easier. By working hand in hand with parents, you’ll give everyone a feeling of safety and common purpose that will make learning the ABCs that much easier.


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