Is your child a runner with no danger awareness?


Having a child who is a runner / escape artist is extremely challenging.  Add into that mix a lack of danger awareness it gets very stressful very quickly.  I often describe my youngest as a ‘handful’ and I really mean it. My hand is always holding his when we are out.  I have become very good at packing my shopping one handed at the supermarket.

All children will run off, wander or have a lack danger awareness when they are young but for most this is short lived. However, some of our kids really do lack basic danger awareness. They will happily run directly in front of a car at any given opportunity. Totally oblivious to the danger that car poses.

I thought my eldest was a challenge but after having his brother I realised he really wasn’t. The difference is my youngest will take any opportunity to escape, run or put himself in danger.  My eldest, whilst lacking some danger awareness, was not constantly putting himself in danger.

running to danger

Why is my child running off?

There can be many different reasons your child will run or wander off.  Some common reasons for autistic children can be:

  • Sometimes they are easily distracted by something such as a ball and will follow it into the road. 
  • They want to explore something.
  • It can be anxiety related and a flight response to something.
  • Some children will think its is funny to run off at any opportunity. This can become a game to them.
  • It can be about needing control.
ball in front of car

It’s good to have an idea what triggers your child to run so you are more ready for when it may happen. 

Other people often just don’t get it!

One thing I find is people don’t tend to believe me when I say my son will run off until they see or experience it for themselves.  I can’t tell you the amount of times I have asked someone to hold his hand for a moment as I do something only to find him running off as the person has let go of his hand.  Honestly I don’t want to be holding my child’s hand the entire time we are out. I would love to give him more freedom but I am acutely aware of the consequences.

When you experience those moments your child has run into the road (or even just heading for it) your heart really does stop. It is an awful feeling no one wants to experience.   Knowing your child doesn’t understand the danger and knowing they won’t stop for a car is terrifying. 

I know the way people judge me when I shout at my child to stop or when I am chasing him down the street.  It always amazes me how many people just watch you run past them with no response to grab the child they saw fly past them towards a river or road.  Having said that I know my response is lightning quick these days because it has to be. 

It is hard enough being on edge when you are out just to keep your child safe, so it can be particularly stressful when friends / family don’t really get it.  Well meaning questions about why can’t he run ahead with the other kids or saying I am watching him too much can be really upsetting. This is why having groups of other SEN parents to talk to is so valuable because they do get it.

Always remember you know your child best. When you are doing something for their safety that is more important than judgment from others.

hand holding

How do you keep a runner with no danger awareness safe? 

Tag Team

For me one of the hardest aspects of having a runner is the constant state of high alert I need to be in.  Naturally we adapt our home and you get to know when you can relax a little. But when we are out I need to know where he is, where the exits are, what dangers are in the vicinity. You start to become a great risk assessor and know what is happening around you at all times.  This however comes at a price, stress and hypervigilance are exhausting. When you are exhausted you don’t function as well as you could.  This is also why you need to have a tag team, thankful I have this in my husband when we are out together we know we need to take turns being alert and the same goes for in the house. 

If you have a child who has limited danger awareness having support from more than one person really does help. If they have 1-1 support at school having different people do that throughout the day can be really beneficial.  I know that when you are the only person responsible for their safety you get stressed over the day, this then impacts you and the child.  Sadly it can take time to get that tag team of people that ‘get it’ in place.  It also does wonders for your own mental health when other people do see that its not ‘you’ and there is a danger awareness issue.

Safety proofing

Get good at risk assessments- are they likely to go out a window- then get window locks on.  Do you need extra catches and locks on doors at a height they can’t reach.  Do you need a padlock on the garden gate.  Most of us baby and toddler proof our homes but for some children this is required for longer. 

Some children may need to stay in a pram longer, you can get specialist prams from wheelchair services. Others will do well with reigns or wrist reigns.  Others will need constant hand holding, although this may often become wrist holding or clothing holding at times. Additional clips for car seats can also be helpful if you have an escape artist on your hands.

Know your limits

There are some things I won’t do when I have both boys on my own like going to a large play park that has several gates.  I know in a busy environment I won’t be able to keep track of both boys and that gates are often left open by others.  I won’t go to playgrounds without fences.  If my friends want to take all the kids to the downs where there are roads everywhere I won’t go with the kids. 

Sometimes places where there will be lots of adults are the worst. Such as a BBQ / party/ family gathering because I know my son will be looking for an escape and also that all the adults will assume someone else is watching when likely no one is.

Whilst I am a big believer in doing the hard things it is also important to recognized the things you can’t manage alone.  Say no to things you don’t think are safe and pick the things that do work. Like the playpark with just one gate so I can then position myself near that exit and give my son a bit more freedom.


Be Prepared

I like to dress my son in bright clothes (red / orange) if we are going somewhere busy this means they are easier to spot when flying round a soft play centre.

Think about where you are going and where there may be triggers / dangers and highlight them where appropriate.  Many of our kids will learn the danger awareness they may just take a bit longer.

If my son was to get lost we have the additional challenge that he wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively with other people.  When you are in a busy place like a theme park it is always a good idea to place a sticker on your child’s back (where they can’t reach) with your phone number on it.  If you have a persistent runner it can be worth getting a wrist band with your contact details on.  For older children it may be necessary to use GPS trackers in watches or phones to help keep them safe.   

Social stories can sometimes be helpful when it comes to danger awareness, especially if there is something that is a particular issue.

Do you have any tips to help parents of runners / escape artists? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. 4th September 2021 / 10:39 pm

    It’s such a stress. We had a runner as a little one, so I really feel for you. #KCACOLS

    • admin
      4th September 2021 / 10:43 pm

      Thanks it really is stressful. I look forward to when he no longer runs.

    • Nicole
      17th May 2024 / 3:15 pm

      We are in this stage for 5 years when will it stop I’m alone to raise by my self summer time is worse because it’s nice out we spend most days out side but it’s never enough he will still run away the people in my area love to call the cops it only happened 2 times I’m on him 23/7 he only needs 3 hours of sleep no naps nothing something has to help please anyone give me advice

      • admin
        19th May 2024 / 10:25 am

        It is so difficult especially when coupled with sleep deprivation. Things are getting much easier for us now with my 8 year old and between 5-7 things improved a lot. Big helps for us were him starting to choose to wear headphones so less triggered by noises when we are out. As for sleep if he is still on 3 hours at 5 definitely see a pediatrician about sleep support as this will also be part of why he is dysregulated. Good luck it is so hard.

  2. 4th September 2021 / 11:56 pm

    This must be so hard. I know my twins run off in different directions, but this sounds really stressful. #KCACOLS

  3. 5th September 2021 / 11:56 am

    My eldest is now 10 and whilst I wouldn’t say she’s a runner exactly as you describe she does love to wander off. I used to scoff at the idea of the harnesses that people put on their kids when they are tiny, but I totally get it now. It’s about being able to keep them safe. #KCACOLS

    • admin
      5th September 2021 / 12:03 pm

      Wandering off is equally stressful. I know what you mean about harnesses, I also didn’t get it before kids but it’s definitely about Keeping them safe.

  4. 6th September 2021 / 10:01 pm

    My third was a runner! I couldn’t trust him at all. He was impulsive. He still is in several ways, but has a bit of understanding now at nearly 10. I wore him or strapped him in unless I could chase him. With two toddlers before him, it was surely a challenge.

    • admin
      8th September 2021 / 8:43 am

      Yes I was very thankful for reigns and buggies when both boys were prone to impulsiveness

  5. Becky, Cuddle Fairy
    7th September 2021 / 10:30 am

    Those are really good tips, I like the one about dressing in bright colours when out. Thankfully my kids didn’t do this. I remember babysitting a boy who did and it was such a scary experience when he just disappeared, I found him again but it is a terrifying feeling when the child is all of a sudden not there. #KCACOLS

    • admin
      8th September 2021 / 8:42 am

      It really is an awful feeling isn’t it. Thanks for stopping by x

  6. 8th September 2021 / 3:27 pm

    I have a friend with a little boy who liked to run off as soon as anybody turned away for a second and it’s a real challenge. I never thought about the control part of it. I’m going to mention that to her #KCACOLS

    • admin
      8th September 2021 / 3:53 pm

      There can be so many reasons but always worth mentioning as when you find your child’s trigger it’s soo helpful.

  7. 12th September 2021 / 7:44 pm

    My eldest used to be like this but now likes to be close by and understands better x #kcacols

    • admin
      12th September 2021 / 7:52 pm

      I am looking forward to mine understanding better. My eldest is good at staying close so I know it should be a phase 🤞

  8. 15th September 2021 / 3:02 pm

    Great post on an important subject, and close to my heart. Our boy was very much a runner when younger, and he still has little awareness of potential dangers, and could easily wander off and put himself at risk, if we weren’t keeping him safe. Getting others to fully understand has been pretty much impossible. He sometimes still runs too. And as he’s now very strong, I cannot physically keep him safe if he goes into fight or flight while we’re out somewhere, so we are normally two adults when out and about with him xx #KCACOLS

    • admin
      15th September 2021 / 3:15 pm

      Keeping people safe when they are bigger than us is definitely not an easy task. I am grateful that my kids are still small enough to be picked up. Although my eldest is beginning to grow rapidly.

  9. Shelley Whittaker
    21st September 2021 / 7:15 pm

    My daughter is completely oblivious to danger and what is happening around her. I always feel like I need to hold her hand and keep watch! #KCACOLS

    • admin
      22nd September 2021 / 11:57 am

      So stressful isn’t it, thanks for stopping by.

  10. Lorna
    24th October 2021 / 2:39 pm

    Hi my son has ASD GDD SPD he is a runner so I know it’s so stressful going out with him, I choose large quiet parks or just a field, it’s all about adapting to their needs what’s hard at times because they are time would love to go seaside with my friends and their children but definitely is a no
    Too much stress go to them places when it’s not school holidays

    • admin
      24th October 2021 / 3:58 pm

      Yes it can be hard missing out on those things with friends but as you say it’s about adapting. Never realised before how hard it can be to find enclosed fields and parks !

  11. Yammy
    18th August 2023 / 8:43 am

    This is totally relatable. Hats off to you, you are doing a great job keeping your children safe. In addition to running off, my son also tries to climb over garden fences at home – always trying to escape into the neighbours gardens. He’s 10 right now but I wonder when he’ll stop with the running and escaping! It can get difficult raising a child with additional needs on its own – the escaping and running is an added extra that wasn’t required lol.

    • admin
      3rd September 2023 / 5:42 pm

      It really does add extra pressure with the running but so important for us to do what we can to keep them safe. I really believe it gets easier with time.

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