Safety Highlight: Assistive Technology for Wandering and Elopement

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, today’s post shares tips for keeping track of family members with wandering tendencies.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: a child wanders off and disappears. The nightmare gets even worse if:

  • The child is nonverbal
  • The child doesn’t know how to identify potential helpers
  • The child has sensory issues (that may include bad reactions to the lights and sounds of emergency vehicles)
  • The child is old enough that others might perceive “unusual” behavior as threatening  

All the above are common symptoms of autism—and, unfortunately, another common symptom is wandering, or “eloping.” Around half of people with autism also have elopement habits; and of elopement cases reported to authorities, as many as 70 percent may involve life-threatening situations.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce chances of your loved one wandering, and to find them if they do. The “apps age” means even more options. If you have a family member with nonverbal autism—or with intellectual disability or dementia—here are some of our assistive-tech recommendations.

Smartphone Medical ID

Standard smartphone features include “Medical ID,” which lets first responders quickly check anyone’s special needs in case of emergency. BridgingApps’ “Did You Know?” video series includes instructions for adding medical ID to both Android and Apple phones.

If I Need Help

This system uses QR codes on stickers, tags, patches, and other wearables. If a concerned party meets someone who seems lost and uncommunicative, it’s easy to scan the code and find out whom to contact.

Says Cristen Reat, BridgingApps Co-Founder and Program Director: “Our young-adult son Vincent has communication difficulties from autism and Down syndrome. When he goes on a family outing or school field trip, I always make sure he has a sticker on his shirt, just in case he gets separated from his group. I like the range of products that If I Need Help’s QR codes can be used with. Where interaction with law enforcement could be a concern, I recommend carrying one of the ID cards as well.

“We also use the custom seat belt alert in our family car, so that if something happens, first responders will have quick access to Vincent’s info.” (These tags, which fasten around seat belts, are especially useful when the driver is incapacitated from an accident and unable to explain their child’s needs.)  


One option for keeping more direct track of a potential “eloper.” Uses small tracker devices (“Tiles”) that attach to most objects, including clothing and jewelry. Bluetooth access required.

AngelSense Guardian

Connects to a wearable GPS tracker so a person’s whereabouts can be verified at any time. Features include:

  • Live maps
  • “Arrival” and “departure” notifications, to confirm the GPS wearer is on schedule or to note delays
  • Unknown/Unexpected Place Alerts, for immediate warnings of possible elopement
  • First Responder Alert
  • Ability to choose who can access the tracking system at what times

My SOS Family Emergency Alerts

For young-adult and older users with some independent-living skills. The app stores a list of emergency contacts, whom the user can alert if feeling “wander compulsion,” or if finding themselves in a strange place.

My SOS is also useful for people with physical disabilities, who can set it for situations like, “I’m going to take a shower. If I’m not back in 30 minutes, I may have fallen and injured myself: alert my emergency contacts to come check on me.”

Additional Tips

  • Put alarms on outside doors, to be alerted if your child leaves the house.
  • Keep an organized “in case of elopement” file: a recent photo of your child/family member; medical information; notes on where they might go (favorite hangouts, places related to hobbies, etc.); notes on how they typically react in stressful situations. Have this information ready for first responders and anyone else who might join a search.
  • Know how your child prefers to learn about new situations (e.g., through social stories). Help the child practice what to do if lost (avoid panic; find a safe place and stay put; know how to recognize and properly approach first responders).
  • See if local police have a department specially trained in dealing with autism and similar disabilities. Know how to contact that department directly; they’ll be your best allies in an elopement emergency.
  • If your child does go missing, check their favorite spots inside and near your home first—but don’t spend too much time searching before you call for additional help. In an elopement case, every second may count.
  • From Cristen Reat: “Review your [contact app] account regularly each year. Make sure the information stays updated.”

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