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Autistic Children and Danger

Posted Aug 26 2008 11:23pm

In Autistic children often don't know how to identify danger the Mercury News performs a valuable service by highlighting the fact that many autistic children don't know how to identify danger. This is not an aspect of autism that Dr. Sanjay Gupta or Anderson Cooper might wish to talk about on CNN but it is a fact with which many parents and family members of autistic children are all to familiar. A few years ago my son Conor wandered away from home and across a busy street oblivious to the dangers of automobile traffic. A good Samaritan stopped and helped him into a nearby Ultramar convenience store where I was able to go get him after calling 911. In New Zealand an 11 year old boy was recently killed while running alongside highway traffic.

The Mercury News tells the story of Danny Barrett an autistic San Jose boy who disappeared overnight in the woods. It also describes the realities faced by parents of children with autism:

It is one of many facets of autism they learn to accommodate:their kids' tendency to wander off. Sometimes it's because, like all kids, they are curious. Sometimes it's because their senses are overloaded and they need to get away.

But what's most troubling about the tendency, said Anna Wang, an advocate for children with special needs, is that autistic kids don't always understand danger.

"They don't necessarily run away. They want to explore and just wander off. But they don't know how to identify danger," said Wang, founder of the Friends of Children with Special Needs Dream Center in Fremont. "They don't know it is dangerous to cross the highway."

There are tracking bracelets available but many autistic children are sensitive to touch and do not want to wear the bracelets. In Conor's case we asked his ABA consultant for help and she designed a sub-routine involving pylon's around the perimeter of his yard and worked to teach Conor not to wander off away from home.

Above Conor and Dad - Photo courtesy of Charles Leblanc

We have worked with Conor on ensuring his understanding of the dangers of automobile traffic and roads ever since. And we have been vigilant, constantly vigilant. In the photo, taken last winter, you can see me walking across a Fredericton intersection with Conor ....... with my hand firmly grasping his wrist.

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