Building Safer Communities for Those Who Wander

Autism and wandering safety

By Project Lifesaver International

As parents we strive every day to keep our children safe and protected. All the more so when our child is on the autism spectrum. Some may be non-verbal and prone to the life threatening behavior of wandering. An autistic child who wanders can put themselves in extremely unsafe situations. Many autistic elopers will typically hide or run complicating the search and rescue efforts, posing significant challenges for first responders and reducing the chances of the wanderer’s safe return.

Additionally studies over the last few years have shown that nearly half the population with autism will wander at some point. Many who wander are at risk of drowning as statistics show that 91% of wandering deaths are drowning related.

One very important way to help keep our children safer is by educating law enforcement and first responders about the special needs community and the behaviors of individuals with autism. Work in your communities to create a collaborative relationship between first responders and caregivers. If they have a better understanding of the behaviors associated with autism and you as caregivers have a better understanding of how best to work with your local law enforcement, then everyone wins, especially our precious wanderers. Your community will be in a position to take a more proactive approach and recognize when individuals may be in harm’s way.

Project-Lifesaver-InternationalThat has been the goal of Project Lifesaver for more than 17 years. We bridge the gap between law enforcement and the special needs communities, keeping those communities protected, and safely bringing loved ones home should they wander or elope.

Project Lifesaver serves approximately 18,000 individuals with autism who wear small personal transmitters that emit an individualized locating signal. If an enrolled person with autism wanders from safety, the caregiver notifies their local Project Lifesaver agency, and a trained emergency team responds in the wanderer’s area.

Our program started as a result of failure in standard search and rescue operations for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Something needed to be done to bring loved ones homes safely and help cut down the costs for searches, averaging $1,500 per search hour, about 9 hours per search, and usually not a positive ending. This was unacceptable to CEO and Founder, Gene Saunders. He was sparked by an idea when he received radio frequency technology for wildlife. He felt something similar could be the solution for a search and rescue training program implementing similar tracking technology. After his local police department had its first successful search, a domino effect began and our program has spread internationally. We’ve worked with over 1,400 agencies across the US, Canada, and Australia. Organizations using Project Lifesaver have conducted over 3,000 searches with a 100% success rate.

For more information:

If you are interested in more safety for wanderers, read about “If I Need Help” program.

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.


  1. My concern is what happens if the child goes beyond the half to full mile radius from the Project Lifesaver headquarters, where they can be tracked by PLS, and still isn’t located. Also, a caregiver has to notify PLS that the child is gone rather than the device notifying me that my child has left a location. Also, will it work if we are traveling from state-to-state?

    • Natasha, I am going to share your question with the people at Project Lifesaver and have them answer it in comments. I also want to let you know that there is another great safety resource called, If I Need Help. Check them out at ~ Jodi

      • Thank you for the mention, Jodi! Hope all is going great. Our non profit makes personal wearable iD that links to a live profile. Just added a Caregiver controlled special needs registry that can be emailed to first responders during a crisis.

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