There was a tragic end to the disappearance of a young autistic child in Texas. The body of 7-year-old Xavion Young was found earlier this week in a pond near his home in Texas City, a day after the boy was reported missing by his mother. He had apparently wandered out of his apartment and walked to the nearby pond.

Unfortunately, this kind of tragedy is all too common. Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to wander off, or elope, from their caregivers and families – whether out of curiosity or seeking to escape a situation that’s causing stress. According to a survey of families with autistic kids, nearly half said their child had attempted to elope after the age of 4 — and drowning was a major concern.

Children with autism are drawn to water and often are unable to comprehend the dangers associated with it. In fact, accidental drowning is the cause of more than half of all injury deaths among children with ASD and researchers at Columbia University’s Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention say this at-risk population has 160 times the chance of dying from drowning compared to other children. “There is an urgent need to have a comprehensive approach in place to better protect children from eloping and to reduce this enormous risk for drowning, “ says Dr. Terry Hamlin, Associate Executive Director at The Center for Discovery®. “At the Center, we are using new technology to monitor the stress response in children with autism with the goal of better understanding the stress effect and how to predict and prevent a stress response such as elopement.”

So what can be done? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a three-pronged approach:

  1. Plan – monitor the child’s behaviors, have an emergency plan, secure the home, and keep identification on the child.
  2. Prevent – be alert, provide a safe location, inform neighbors and school workers and alert first responders.
  3. Teach Safety Skills – including responding to safety commands, knowing his/her name and number or how to show ID, and learning how to swim as well as cross the street.