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!
In This Post You Will Find:
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, but for far less money (and without the listening-in option). It hasn’t been out for long so there aren’t a lot of reviews on how well it works over time, but it is fast-becoming popular.
c. Gizmo LG Gizmo Pal 2 Blue (Verizon Wireless) – this is just for Verizon, but it looks great. It’s under $200 with no subscription service (other than your normal phone one) and will locate the child.
d. CMKJ Smartwatch for kids – this looks simple, straightforward, inexpensive and kid-friendly. Waterproof, with GPS.
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.
According to the Police, only phone numbers, not names should be listed.
a.: I liked Road ID Anklet a lot . It’s great because it goes on the ankle and looks like it will pack a lot of information on that little plate.
b. ID Bracelets are a great option for kids that like jewelry .
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.
Check out the version that is better for us deaf, thanks to flashing light alerts and the option for every loud volume and/or vibration with Central Alert CA-360 Combo 2 Notification System
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 methis linkto some gates that she said were great with her child. They look super.
b. Tension Mounted Anywhere Gates These are what I went for as I need to have something that is portable, something that doesn’t need to be installed with a screwdriver.
c. 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.
d. Deadboltsare 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. I know, I know. 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, see below:
b. I went and bought anextra-large dog collar with a retractable sturdy leash when my daughter outgrew her monkey-harness. The extra-large collar will fit around her waist like a belt and I simply attach the leash to her waist.
I went to PetCo and got 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.
c. 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 (green shirt here links to Amazon; pink shirt at left links to Target 🙂 )
d. 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.
Part of it was also ABA Therapy and the use of my service dog.
A Service Dog for Our Eloping Kids
Our kids with disabilities qualify for service dogs.
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.
ABA Therapy to Keep Your Bolting Child Safe
The question of how to teach an Autistic child to stop running (or a child with Down syndrome or other disability) is HUGE for most parents who deal with bolting.
I was only able to finally stop my own child from eloping when connected with ABA Therapy.
ABA Therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis) trains a child through positive reinforcement.
It is controversial because many Autistic adults have been traumatized by it. The therapy has also faced criticism as it’s clearly about training a child. Some parents have compared it to dog training.
I turned to ABA Therapy because I was desperate. I couldn’t keep my child on a leash forever, and I had literally tried EVERYTHING ELSE.
We had a very positive experience with ABA therapy; it worked very well for my daughter. The emphasis on positive rewards was perfect for her, and we focused on curbing her bolting.
ABA Therapy is not for everyone.
Just as you do with everything, research! Meet the ABA team that would work with your child, interview them, see if this form of therapy really would be the best fit for your child.
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,
Keep Your Bolting Child Safer
|Tracker||Cost||Pros of Tracker||Cons of Tracker|
|AngelSense GPS Tracker||$$$$||Stellar record of being a reputable GPS tracker. Listen-in options.||It's expensive|
|$$$||Clips on to anything, easy to use||New (doesn't have a long record of tracking kids)|
|Gizmo||$$$||Like a watch, great for older kids||Verizon-only|
|CMKJ Smartwatch for Kids||$$||Simple watch with GPS||Track record is not extensive|
|Apple Watch||$$$||Integrates well with existing family Mac systems||May require some macgyvering (remove watch band for younger kids, put in waterproof pouch)|
|Road Tags ||$||Wrist or ankle versions, easy||Can potentially be removed by child|
|Door Alarms||$||Will alert you if the child tries to get out through the door. Can also be used on windows|
|Door Alarms with Flashing Lights||$$||Can connect with windows and doors and will flash alerts as well as higher volume|
|Squeaky Shoes||$||Helps you locate your child when s/he is wearing them||Other children might be also be wearing squeaky shoes|
|Extra Tall Gates||$||Will help slow your child down||Your child will figure out how to open it after a while|
|Tension Mounted Anywhere Gate||$||Portable, easy to install; will slow your child down||Your child will figure out how to open it at some point|
|Retractable Driveway Guards||$||Portable, easy to install, excellent visual barrier for kids||Visual barrier only|
|Deadbolts||$||Will keep the door locked from your child|
|Stuffed Animal Harness ||$||Cute, easy to use and will keep your child with you||They will not be strong enough for a stronger bolting child|
|Extra large dog collar and retractable leash||$||Strong and useful for years. Use the collar as a belt and retract the leash.|
|Neon clothes||$||Fantastic visual aid for parents||other kids might be wearing the same color|
|BOB Revolution||$$$$||Will last longer than any other stroller for a child with Down syndrome, and can cover any terrain||Pricey|
Helpful ResourcesDisability Related Resources
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.