NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla - National autism groups, such as Autism Speaks and the National Autism Association, are putting more emphasis on the problem of wandering. According to one study, half of autistic children are prone to wandering or bolting away from their homes.
It is a problem for many families, including the Bunkelmann's in North Palm Beach.
Nine-year-old Ethan Bunkelmann is a bundle of energy, but a walk outside is always a supervised event for his mom, Ruthie. It has to be. Ethan is autistic and he is a wanderer.
"Some of it is language with him. he doesn't know how to express why he is so mad and he wants to get it and he takes off," she said.
Ethan briefly darted off at Disney World once. At home there are lots of precautions against that.
There are two chains and two alarms on the doors.
"When you open the door it makes one sound and then the other continually goes off," she said.
Ruthie and her husband Scott are on alert for middle of the night walks too. A motion detector sees to that.
"Nothing replaces parent supervision, but the alarms, the motion detector buys us time," she said.
Ethan also wears a tracking bracelet. But should he manage to wander from home or elsewhere, his first line of defense is himself.
"What is your name," Ruthie asks her son.
"Ethan," he replies.
"What is your last name?"
"What is your birthday?"
It took a few years to teach Ethan the potentially life-saving answers to this list of vital questions.
"We went to the North Palm Beach police department and fire department," said Ruthie. "Getting him out of the car to answer those questions was a struggle."
The Bunkelmann's have known struggle before. They lost their oldest son Seth to leukemia when he was only five. They leave nothing to chance with Ethan.
"When Ethan was first diagnosed. I was so afraid we'd have to put him in an institution and there was no way, I was going to lose another child," she said.