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Autism and the Home Security System April 20, 2009

Posted by hopeauthority in Autism, Family, special needs.
Tags: , , , , ,

If ever anyone needed a home security system…a state of the art one…it’s a family with an autistic child.

Not so much to keep the burglars out as to keep the child in!

Some call them “runners” or “escape artists”. IEPs call them “elopers”. But they all have one thing in common… the kid makes a break for it whenever he can. It happens at home, in school and in public.

If you’re lucky, your school will assign your eloper a matron for the bus (so he doesn’t walk out the back door while the bus is going 40 MPH!) and an aide for the classroom so you can rest a bit easier during the school day. (Unless of course, the aide is a 60 year old asthmatic with arthritis who couldn’t get herself out of the building in a fire, much less chase down your energetic rebel as he flings open the school’s front door and makes an unauthorized break for the playground).

The fear of elopement rivals the fear of an embarrassing tantrum in public. It causes many of us not to take our autistic kids out shopping or anywhere else where their darting away could be disasterous. And if we do take them out, it’s the reason we apply the vulcan death grip to their shoulders or hands when walking … which in turn causes them to try to wriggle away from our grasp and, well, make a break for it!

So, how do we keep them safe at home? That’s a loaded question. First, we have to keep them in the home. And that brings me to the reason I have time to write this post. I am spending the day home with the home security system alarm tech who is updating our system. 

Our house has 2 levels with the bedrooms upstairs. We also have a basement with a playroom and laundry room. We are one of those couples that never set the alarm, but mostly had it for the security the PANIC button gave me. Three weeks into our 5 year contract, the alarm thingy on one of the windows came loose and caused the system not to set. That was how it stayed for 5 years. Yes I know, that’s lame. Stupid, even. And that was just before Fabio’s diagnosis. 

But what was (to me) the most valuable part of the alarm system remained functional…the chime feature. I could not live without the chime feature. Between that and the baby monitor that I STILL use on occasion to give me an extra sets of ears as to what Fabio is up to, I can still call this place “Home Sweet Home” without it always having to be completely in lock down mode like Attica.

The chimes beep whenever someone opens one of our many doors or windows. When its subtle “chirp…chirp…chirp” goes off, it stops the entire family in their tracks and prompts a chorus of “Where’s Fabio?” that continues until we can be certain it wasn’t him going out the door unsupervised…or climbing out a window. 

Several of my friends with autistic kids agree about the need for a feature like the chimes. One friend actually can’t go to sleep until her six-year old son is deeply sleeping and she has taken heroic measures to secure his room… ever since she found her then two-year old Houdini on the awning outside his second story bedroom window! This same little boy also escaped a locked and guarded hotel room and made it to the hotel bar at a family wedding when he was four. Never underestimate these kids and their obsessions.

It should be interesting to see how Fabio handles the new alarm system, which hubby and I have vowed to really use this time. It’s got the windows and doors alarmed, motion detectors all over, heat sensors and other James Bondy stuff.  I envision many false alarms as he imitates us and randomly starts pressing buttons on the alarm’s keypad. I’m sure the resulting repeated presence of police cruisers at our home will feed the neighborhood gossip mill in the coming weeks.

Oh, and consider installing your keypads about 7 inches higher than customary to discourage or delay your little rebel with an OCD-like cause from reaching them.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m driven to actually prying off one of those window alarm thingys. As long as I have my chimes…

So, how do you keep your little ones safe at home, or in public? Share your tips for safety…or your stories of escape… here.



1. Fielding J Hurst - April 20, 2009

Great points. I love the chime feature, but that was not enough for our peace of mind. While our kid doesn’t have leaving the house too high on her to-do list, you never know and since we live on a busy street, it’s scary. In any case, we put dead-bolt KEY only locks on all of the doors. IE – WIthout key, you can’t get out. For fire safety reasons, we have a key hidden by each door. It’s nice to know that at least, she is 100% for sure in the house.

2. hopeauthority - April 20, 2009

Thanks for the reminder! I meant to say that we have KEY-ONLY deadbolts on our doors too. And we rotate the location of the key.

In fact, most of our closest family and friends have even switched their own home’s locks to this style because of our son (some of their own initiative and others at our gentle suggestion/request).

It may seem like a lot to ask of someone, but without these key-only locks, we have been unable to enjoy visiting these homes. One of us is always shadowing our son like a hawk since he can…and does…unlock the non-key type. And once he does it once, he’ll do it repetitively. (Doesn’t make for a festive and enjoyable holiday dinner!)

3. Robin Lampe - April 20, 2009

As a mom and executive at a security company, I was very moved by this example of how an alarm system can help provide a little peace of mind (I hope). This is why we come to work and how we try to make a difference. We see examples every day of how lives are saved or families are kept safer, but it’s rarely shared on the news. No sales pitch here, just wanted to say thanks for sharing, and I wish you much peace.

hopeauthority - April 20, 2009

Thanks for providing a great …and in the case of autistic families a necessary… service. And thanks for stopping by!

4. tiredmama - May 21, 2009

Hey, have you heard about the Lo-Jack system? My son just came home with information about it today. Sounds really interesting, especially if you have a wanderer. Here’s their website: http://www.lojack.com/safetynet/pages/caregivers-guardians-family-members.aspx

5. Billy - May 19, 2012

we have special latches on doors all are up high… sliding glass door drill a hole where two doors meet, install pin, we also use hasps on screen door with those mountain climber clips, you can also drill slider and casement windows and install pins or screws, we make sure other children know how to open windows in case of emergemcy, as for the people who think they have no intrest, when u find out they do its too late, we also think a 6 ft fence around property, and you can cet a key chain/ bear transmitter that will set off when child gets 20 ft away

hopeauthority - February 20, 2013

Sorry it took me so long to say “Thanks for the great tips”!

6. Jackie Smith - April 29, 2014

My question is, how do we keep our little darlings safely and securely in their bedrooms without locking them in with the door shut like they’re criminals? It’s just not safe for him to have the run of the house when everyone is asleep. He could escape from the house or ruin the house or ruin himself! At the moment we have a security chain or approm 3inches on his bedroom door, so the door is open but he is safe inside and cannot escape ……….our social worker said it may be a “Child protection issue” so we need other options. Her idea of a sensor on the door proved to be just not good enough as he is out, flooded the bathroom and smearing poop on the tv before we are even fully awake!!!

All ideas welcome xx

hopeauthority - April 29, 2014

If you have an alarm system, you can get an indoor motion detector aimed at his doorway so if he leaves the room it will sound. It may be enough to frighten him into not doing so (or it may make him want to do it 100x more!) You may also have an issue with central station monitoring if he does it too often, unless you make special arrangements regarding responding to that particular sensor’s tripping. Consider rigging the doors of his room and the bathroom with hanging jingle bells or place a musical mat that he’d have to step on to leave the room. You can also continue using the baby monitor in either his room or whatever room he heads for first when he escapes. If he is a creature of habit, maybe make a routine that he has to do before he leaves the bedroom each morning that involves enough noise that you’d be alerted…like make a special box that he has to put 2 things into like bells and his slippers, and if he’s old enough make his bed and ring a bell when he’s done… and and give him a sticker/reward for doing that each morning and after a certain amount of stickers or tokens, he earns a special privilege ( a walk) or toy or treat. “train him” to come to your room to get his sticker. Make it fun and make a big deal of being proud of him for doing it. Good luck.

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