raising autism header

Lost or Runaway


Preparation for Possible Lost or Runaway

House Alarms and Locks

Tracking your own Child


Tracking Devies

The first thing you do is call 911 and do an immediate search of the area. I once caught my son standing in his bare feet with pajamas on at a bus stop. With Thomas, I believe, running away was more of a teenager trying to separate himself from his parents or authority. He would go months or even a year without attempting to run away. We call it running away. He would call it escaping/freedom.

There are children with autism that from an early age are always trying to run away. They are known as runners. They are not specifically sneaky about it. It’s just part of their autism behavioral pattern like rocking, twisting or organizing. As your child hits puberty, they may start to engage in the behavior of running away as what I think is a natural attempt to become a more independent person.

I think in all areas of the country, the police will fill out a missing person’s report upon the immediate determination that a child or person with mental disabilities is gone, but I am not sure. With normally functioning adults there can be a twenty-four hour wait period unless there is observance or suspicion of a crime such as abduction.

Preparation for Possible Lost or Runaway

One of the things to carry on you is a description of your child and a recent photo. This can be on a CD or thumb drive. A digital picture allows the police to get the photo out quickly to other police officers and agencies like transit police officers, park police or rangers through the computers in their cars.

If your child is a danger to runaway often, it is advisable to take a picture of your child head to foot every day before your child leaves the house. Taking a picture everyday gives the officers a description of what your child is wearing. Children often will lose items or can leave a trail of items as they travel. This unfortunately has not been the case with Thomas. Even when he took his jacket off or shoes and socks, he would carry them with him.

Another thing to carry around with you is a piece of clothing that your child has recently worn with his/her scent in a Ziploc bag. The purpose is if search and rescue get involved. They can use trained dogs that will follow your child’s scent trail. The dogs need an initial scent to follow. One time Thomas ran away in a state park and traveled about 9 miles on foot, crossing two highways to the town of Santa Cruz. (More details in “Operating Instructions”.) Search and Rescue got involved and they had a dog but we did not have any scented article with us. We did have a photo.


House Alarms and Locks

doublesided door combination lock

Double Sided Combination Door Lock You need to input a code to get out and in to the house each time. The code can easily be changed if the child learns the code. Friends, and fire and police can also be given this code in case of emergency. The lock can also be put in passage mode so a code would not be needed.

doublesided door combination lock

Door U Lock usually put at the top of sliding doors but will also work on regular doors. It works as long as your child can not reach it.

doublesided door combination lock

The alarm can be used either as a door or window alarm. It emits a loud alarm when a door or window is openned. It can be disarmmed by a keypad. There are a number of variations to this type of an alarm. The biggest problem with this type of an alarm when used on a door is forgeting to disarm it before opening the door. The sound can be ear splitting. The mistake can start behavioral problems for childern with autism.

window alarmWindow alarm
This alarm system has just a simple on off switch which could be figure out bu a child with disabilities, but you could install it on the outside of a window.

window limiterwindow limiter There are a variety of Window Limiters. They are designed to prevent falling out of a window. One time I caught my son stuck halfway out the second story window of his bedroom having squeezed through the restricted space. I had to pull him back in and I know it was painful for him. He never tried again. The window limiter was one I designed myself. It was strong enough to hold him in, but he was very motivated to try and get through the small space. I do not know if the commercial window limiters are strong enough to hold a motivated child.

door or window wedge

Wedge can be used to keep a door closed. Some people have also used screws in the side of the windows and had a screw driver place near the window in case of fire. The ability to escape from a fire and the ability of your child to use a screw driver or pull out a wedge needs to be taken into consideration.

window break alarm

An alarm mounted on the glass of a window and goes off if the window is broken


Tracking your own Child.

Other children are often more observant of other children than adults.

Illustrative Story:

One of the scariest times that Thomas ran away from us was in a park that wound along a river in a town we were passing through while on a trip. You always kick yourself as to how you could let your child get away.

Realizing he was gone, I started running down this multi-use path that I was fairly sure he was going down. As I ran, I would ask people if they had seen a teenager with headphones on. I checked out a swimming pool along the way. I had been running about ¾ of a mile to a mile and nobody had noticed him. I was beginning to think I was going in the wrong direction. I came across a mother and her teenage daughter walking towards me and asked them. The mother said she had not seen a teenager with headphones. However, her daughter said she did see him and that he had left the multi-use path and gone up to an overpass that went over the river. The mother looked incredulous that she had not noticed Thomas, but the daughter said yes he had run past. I went up to the overpass and met a cyclist coming my way who said he had just seen Thomas go by him. The cyclist turned around and caught up to Thomas and stopped him until I could catch up.


Medic Alert Id’s are well known. http://www.medicalert.org/ Bracelets have clasps that are hard to put on or take off. Bored on bus trips to school, Thomas eventually learned how to take them off. Sometimes he wore them. Sometimes he did not. Bracelets, we thought were gone would pop up again months later from wherever he had stashed them.

There are a number of id’s made for runners and cyclists that attach to the ankle or on a shoe string that also work.

Sew id’s into clothing or use markers.

A wallet with id, this did work with Thomas when he remembered to carry it. He saw other children and adults with wallets so he never chucked it.


Tracking Devices

Tracking devices along with id’s are only good as long as a person with autism is willing to carry them or cannot get it off their person. This was a problem with Thomas. I got Amber Alert, back then they were big clunky things. At first Thomas thought it was cool. He called it the “plug it in” because we had to plug it in each night to recharge. Then he got tired of it and started trying to lose it. Of course, you can find it because it transmitted its coordinates. He probably wondered why this thing kept boomeranging back to him. I had this elaborate multi-locking system to try and keep it around his ankle. Of course, he managed to get it off and he threw it down a dry drain. I retrieved it. The next day he threw it down a wet drain and fried the device. I tried again a little later with a new device but same results.

For true real time tracking, you need a SIM card (subscriber identity module) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subscriber_identity_module) or a device with one built already in it. These devices are essentially a phone and often allow you to listen in or the lost person to respond or call one number. Some of these devices have accelerometers that will notify you if the device is traveling faster than a predetermined speed. This would indicate a car or public transit.


A smart phone can be used as a tracking device as there are a number of apps that allow you to find a lost phone from another phone or computer. As they become less expensive they will become a viable alternative.

Beware of products that are called “Tracking Devices” that do not track real time.

There are a number of things that are called “tracking devices” that are not suitable for actually finding someone when you need to.

RF chips- “Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the wireless use of electromagnetic fields to transfer data, for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio-frequency_identification These will not transmit any location data.

There are “tracking devices” that have a limited range of like 350 feet often used with pets, but I have seen one for kids called My Buddy Tag which only has a range of 80-120 feet. I think it is of very limited use.

There are “tracking devices” that record where you have been and you download the information from the device later. They do not track in real time. Most of these are found for hiking, running, cycling, and auto.

There are live “tracking devices” that are only live if they are paired with a phone that a person has to carry around with them. These devices are primarily found in sports.