How to Stop Your Child From Eloping: A Guide for Parents of Children with Autism and Down Syndrome

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This is about ways to keep your bolting child safe. “Bolting”, “eloping” or “child who runs away with abandon” – this post is about ways to keep the child who is a runner, safe.

Your “Runner” – Keeping the Eloping Child Safe

Bolting is very common with kids with Down syndrome and Autism.

It’s also common with some kids with other disabilities, and it’s different from just “running away,” – it’s running away without conscience, with a complete disregard for safety or caution, almost an inability to stop.

Some people call it “eloping” and others simply “running;” I tend to call it “bolting.”

How to keep your bolting child safe

How to stop a child with Down syndrome or Autism from eloping at all is the best possible course of action, but failing that – or until they have learned to stop bolting, keeping them safe is what’s on my mind.

I initially wrote this post 6 years ago after my then-3 year old daughter with Down syndrome figure out how to undo the door lock, slipped out of the house, under a gate and was found wandering around the street trying to cross to get to the big playground.

I have updated the post with the most current tools that we parents have.

There are affiliate links in this post – and all that means is that if you buy something using a link here, Amazon or the company will give me a percentage but you will pay no more than you would have. Not all of the links are affiliate. Nothing is listed here that was not used by me or recommended to me, and nothing is listed here for any reason other than to help you.

Without further ado, let’s get to the tips!

Top GPS Tracking Devices for Eloping Children

I really like this option, personally. There are a lot of variations on the same theme – attach something to your child and an alarm will blare when they have gone beyond a set distance from you.

AngelSense also comes with a voice monitoring option (to listen in). This would be gold for you hearing parents! Personally, I get nothing from that added feature, but I do love that it is so accurate that it will tell you which bush your child is hiding behind.

a. AngelSense GPS Tracker for Children with Disabilities – this has the solid gold stamp. It’s been around a while and has stellar reputation for tracking our kids.

In addition to the GPS, it has a ‘listen in’ voice monitoring option.

This means that if you have any concerns about what’s going on around your child at school or throughout the day, this would be a way to assure yourself. It is can be expensive though, and requires a monthly fee (after the first year which is included in the device price).

The AngelSense device itself not waterproof yet.

You need to get a plastic cover for it, easily purchased on the AngelSense site.

b. JioBit: This new whiz-kid in the GPS tracking community – apparently doing what AngelSense does, what with tracking your child , but for far less money (and without the listening-in option and the intensely accurate tracking that AngelSense has).

People love it (I haven’t tried it, but I’d like to).

c. CMKJ Smartwatch for kids – this looks simple, straightforward, inexpensive and kid-friendly. Waterproof, with GPS.

Apple Watch and Disability: access reviews from users with disabilitites

e. AppleWatch.

If your family runs on a Mac system already, this is, I think, one of the best options. What I mean by that is, if you already use Mac for everything, the AppleWatch can synch and integrate with YOUR AppleWatch, you can set the tracking features to your iPhone which also integrate with your MacBook, etc.

Also: AppleWatches are really coming down in price. If you wait for a sale, you will pay between $150-300 as a one-time fee (no monthly subscriptions!).

For a younger child, the band can be removed and the watch head placed it in a waterproof pouch as a necklace or clip. Use the “find my phone” feature or “locate family”. You can use the “walkie-talkie” feature, watch-to-watch.

For an older child, it could simply be worn as a watch. We do this, and I love it because I can set it with reminders for my child, as well as use it as a tracking device.

Identification Wearables

According to the Police, only phone numbers, not names should be listed.

a. I liked Road ID Personalized Medical ID Bracelet a lot.

It’s great because it looks like it will pack a lot of information on that little plate.

Name, phone number, address.

b.  Chain ID Bracelets are a great option for kids that like jewelry .

It can have a lot of the same info, just maybe a little less than the Road ID Personalized Medical ID Bracelet.

Sound & Flashing Light Alerts

a.  A lot of people seem to use Door Open Chime Alarms.

It’s simple: the alarm goes off when the door is opened. You can program them and get them to stop/go.

They are inexpensive and seem to be easy to install.

b. Squeaky Shoes This is something really simple, but if you can hear the high pitch from the squeak and if your child is wearing these, you’ll be able to have an idea of where your child is.

This was extremely useful to me when my eloping child was small enough to fit into these.

Physical & Visual Barriers

For the truly savvy kid (read: YOUR KID), gates aren’t likely to be anything more than an exciting hurdle.

It’s going to slow them down but not stop them. Still, when you are dealing with runners that are as fast as ours, a hurdle is still a desirable thing, right? There are a ton of gates out there, here are 3 types that caught my eye:

a. Extra Tall Gates: My friend sent me this link to some gates that she said were great with her child.

They are just really tall expandable and removable gates that will be difficult for a little kid to get over, around or through.

b. These Retractable Driveway Guards are great because while they will NOT stop our kids from going, they serve as a bright visual reminder of how far to go.

Easy to install, portable.

So you could set it up, then really work with your child on not going past that boundary.

d. Deadbolts are a must for any family with a child who might bolt. 

If you have a child with a propensity to escape, GET ONE NOW.

There are hundreds out there to choose from; this is just one that came recommended by a friend.

Simple Solutions While Outside

a. Leashes

Putting a Monkey on Their Backs Harnesses is in essence a leash on your kid isn’t attractive and makes you feel like the crunchy Berkeley hippie parents are going to spit on you and call CPS. But what’s better – that or calling the Police yourself because your kid ran too fast through legs in a crowd and you lost her?

 NOTE: I initially only got my daughter to wear this after a lot of effort. Her big brother (and superstar) wore it around the house to help out (= make it desirable). She ended up loving it, which easily paved the way to the next step:SaveSaveSaveSave

I went and bought an extra-large dog collar .

The extra-large dog collar fit her waist like a belt.

Then I got a retractable sturdy leash which attached to the collar/belt at her waist.

I came up with this after a particularly terrifying eloping episode. This was highly effective in keeping my little bolting child safe, and we used it until she was almost 9.SaveSave

b. Bright Clothing

It feels a little obvious, but: Neon Clothes.

I mean, if you dress your kid in neon, it’s a lot easier to see them. Neon clothes are kind of “in” right now, so it’s a good time to stock up on some cute designs

d. Good Strollers

The BOB Revolution is going to take your child with Down syndrome far past 5 years old, especially with our kids typically being on the small side.

Read my post on the BOB Revolution – I had a double BOB myself and used it until my eloping daughter was 9.

Pricey but definitely worth it, because it’s a sure way to keep your bolting child safe.

How to Stop Our Kids From Running, Bolting, Eloping

Tools (gizmos and gadgets!) can be really helpful indispensable in keeping our runners safer.

We also need ways to try and prevent our kids from running to begin with.

We are talking about children who are NOT neuro-typical though; we are talking about children who are wired in ways we don’t yet really understand. What makes them want, need, yearn to run in the beginning isn’t really understood, nor is it understood why they bolt with the abandon that they do.

Not understanding the why’s make prevention very challenging; we’re just groping around for answers and solutions, really, and that means that sharing what has worked for us is all the more valuable, right?

My daughter is now 9 years old now. She does not bolt, run or elope anymore.

What was once a terrifying daily occurrence – and one in which she could easily have been killed – was curbed entirely.

Part of it was her simply growing older and out of it, I am sure. Part of it was the employment of SO MANY (if not all?) of the tools in this post, and her gradual accustoming to staying by me, checking in and so forth.

We also used my service dog.

A Service Dog for Our Eloping Kids

Our kids with disabilities qualify for service dogs.

child with down syndrome pets a service dog
my hearing service dog and my daughter (who, having Down syndrome, is qualified for a service dog of her own)

Service dogs can be a fantastic option on many levels: to help keep an eloping child safe, to provide companionship, to help the child in specific, disability-related ways.

Service dogs can be free or they can cost; it depends on where you get your dog from. Mine was free, she was bred to be a service dog, and came from the highly reputable Canine Companions for Independence (and she also came after a 2-year wait).

My dog helped my daughter by being her companion and by nudging her when I was calling for her. My dog would sort of shepherd my child back home, nudging her and nosing her in my direction.

It was very effective.

Read my post on How Do I Get a Service Dog? for more.

In Sum: How to Keep Your Bolting Child Safe

Like most other parents of a bolting child, I’ve experienced those moments of sheer terror, not knowing where my child has run off to. I’ve also had the moments where she is sees something interesting and is about to make a break for it, cars be damned. Heart in my throat, I’ve run faster than I ever thought I could, and I’ve been lucky.

We don’t have to rely on luck though. Not when there are tools like the ones above that we can employ.


This post was originally written in 2018 and has been updated since.

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  1. We have a 5 yr old runner, he started at 2. High locks, door alarms, and a lock on the sliding glass door that is clear and folds up. It has a tiny pin like a wire that you have to pull to release it, and his poor fine motor skills made that one a great one. He climbs everything, and loves to go off. We got a shepherd to help be hisbuddy. He doesn’t stop him though, but he does help us know which direction to look. It is a huge challenge. I’m frustrated by the costs of some of these systems.

    1. I’m frustrated too, Tami. I feel like there should be some sort of program for parents of bolters – kids that really just shoot off and it’s unsafe. A lending library, or something under the sheriff’s umbrella.

  2. I have Squeaker Sneekers for my two year old…best ever! We used them to help motivate her to walk, but I realized right away that they would help keep her close to me! Great article!

  3. All these thoughts are great, wish they had a lot of these 20 years ago when my son Fox was little. One Halloween, I dressed him as a puppy to go with the “baby lease” that was popular then. I can tell you, he could’ve easily pulled me along in my chair by himself.

    But to share the laugh, when I read the title on google plus my mind thought of my son and I said “Duck Tape?”

  4. My 5 year old is essentially non-verbal. She doesn’t bolt from me but has walked out of her classroom at school. (I should say her PREVIOUS school.) After that, I took her picture to the local police station. I put her name, my name, our address, and my phone numbers on it. That way, if she ever does get lost, they will know who she is and where she belongs. And they can get that info to other stations if she gets lost somewhere else.

  5. Hi, My name is Sandy and my little treasure is named Abigail! I do have a couple other suggestions that worked GREAT until she of course mastered them (as will yours ;o)
    An alternative to a harness was an item I found years before Abbie was born. At the time it was called a Hand-Helper. It simply went around the adults wrist with a Velcro bracelet, had a ‘springy’ cord (like old phone cords) and a bracelet for the kiddo on the other end. It gave her freedom, kept her safe and felt less like a leash (therefore got fewer scowl’s from the general public who have NO clue about the bolting-skills of OUR kiddos)!
    The other is a different type of flip latch for (my) front door. It’s different because it has a spring on the inside therefore in order to open (I’ll try to locate a brand name). The persons hand must be able to grip, pull to the right, then pull forward. Abbie’s hands were too small and not strong enough unto she was about 11 years old. Then one day her older brother (grrr…22 year old) came to the door and encouraged her to open it so she got a stool and finally had the strength to manipulate it!….But it did give us 10 years of peace ;o)

  6. Hi everyone. Thank you so much for these suggestions. I have been seriously stressed and overwhelmed with my 4 year old darting off in parking lots and figuring out all of the locks on the gates and doors. I am appreciative! Thank you!

    1. you bet – that is really nerve-wracking. I might also suggest a guide dog too, actually. Most all kids with disabilities qualify for one. My own hearing dog stays with Moxie almost all the time, and this is an enormous relief for me, as I know she’s safe. Not that I want her roaming out by herself – it can be really dangerous what with the mountain lions, bears and snakes. But at least I know she’s with Kianna.

  7. Maureen Shaw says:

    Any suggestions for a school setting?

    1. Yes – I mentioned a few in there that are great for school – AngelSense in particular – because you can monitor from your end as well.

  8. Thank you for the great suggestions. We have most of the above in our home already. Any suggestions what to do in playgrounds? I can’t wear the wristlet that attaches to me with my son as he runs up and down the slides and equipment. As soon as he has his freedom he is running right out the park gate.

    Also, have you found any long term solutions for bolting ?

    1. We did do ABA therapy with my daughter for her bolting and it really helped. My service dog also helped a lot, nudging my daughter and staying by her when she did bolt.
      The leash too – I definitely used that.
      I hope you find what works – I know how exhausting and terrifying it can be

      1. Thank you for getting back to me.
        Meriah, I am curious what techniques were implemented during ABA therapy?
        We have been doing ABA for the last 5 years. We have been through so many BCBA’s. We tried positive reinforcement with snacks for nice walking. Overcorrection for pulling. Sitting him down in the middle of the street and counting. We use a marine air horn to get his attention when he starts running. . Everything has only worked temporarily with him. He still has such a curious mind. I am getting so anxious thinking how physically strong he is and that I can’t keep up with him especially now that I am pregnant.

        1. I wasn’t working outside with my daughter and her ABA therapist; I just know that they were working on it and it ended up being really helpful, and we used prompts like, “Moxie, STOP” and signed STOP, and it would work after a few tries.
          By myself though, I did not go anywhere with her unless I either had my BOB stroller and my leash. I got a secure leash from PetCo, meant for a large dog, and I put the collar around her waist like a belt, and had a retractable leash holder thing that I held. She would stay in the stroller for longer walks but if she wanted to get out, she HAD to wear the belt/leash because I just had too many terrifying moments of her bolting.
          She is almost 9 and doesn’t do it anymore though. So that’s an enormous relief.

  9. Hello there,
    please be advised that the link for the BOB stroller is completely the wrong one. It links to an adult site.

    1. THANK YOU – I guess the site was sold. I have updated the link. Thanks again for letting me know.

  10. Hi Meriah:
    I am the mother of a 30-year old son who has Down syndrome. I am also the editor/publisher of a magazine titled Down Syndrome Amongst Us. In the upcoming Summer edition of DSAU, as it is called in short, there will be an extensive feature on Safety and Our Children With Down Syndrome. I am trying to solicit as many advertisers as I can so that we can feature as many safety products as possible for our children. Unfortunately, many of the links to those safety gadgets and devices take me to Amazon or retail stores and I am stuck. How do I get to the manufacturers of these products? It is crucial that parents and caregivers have all options laid out for them. Can you help me please? Thank you! Sarah Sander – Down Syndrome Amongst Us magazine

    1. Hi Sarah,
      Sounds like a good issue!
      To get to the manufactures, you could follow those links back to Amazon, etc, and see on the Amazon page who makes it. There is often a link to the manufacture’s website by the product on Amazon.
      If there isn’t, then you could take the name of the company (- which is ALWAYS displayed) and google it for their website.
      Best wishes to you

  11. I am an adult “high functioning” (I know that labels can be next to useless) autism and I have been through some behavior modification therapy myself, I can honestly say that when done right it has the potential to really help! I have also had it done wrong..without going into too much detail I can honestly tell you that I think the point of any kind of behavior modification including ABA should be to construct, not conform. As long as you are being constructive and only using positive reinforcement with your daughter (in this case keeping her and those around her safe, rather than trying to make her conform to what a “normal” child “should” be like, the bane of my own existence was and remains people trying to totally extinguish my “weird” behaviors) you should not feel bad about doing ABA. I can also say that I have many good memories of the constructive therapists (the bad ones are another story) I have had, even though I realize that in retrospect it was a form of training we do have to take it in context.

    I am glad you have found ways to be safe!

  12. We have experienced bolting with our daughter who has Down syndrome and it is terrifying!! This seems too simple and I realize it won’t work for everyone but we played a game with the kids. It was more of a conditioning. I’d have them walk in from of me and when I said stop they would all have to stop immediately. I wanted her to learn an immediate response to the command. We would do this daily on our walk to the post office. She did start responding but of course it only works when I know she is bolting.

    1. That sounds great! And also, a great reminder that our connection with our kids and repetition for something we know works, is often the most powerful pivoting aid!

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