A study back in 2012 confirmed what many parents of autistic children already knew. Elopement, also known as wandering, is a terrifyingly common occurrence in children with autism. Twice this summer already, we have heard of two little boys with autism wandering off and drowning. We have had our incidents with wandering (and just plain bolting away!) that have caused a ton of stress on everyone!
Autism and Wandering
As a mom of three children on the spectrum, I wish I had known more about an elopement in autism. So, to help provide that information to you, today we will go over autism and wandering. We will answer what elopement is, why it happens, and the steps you can take to safeguard your child with autism from wandering.
What is Elopement?
When many people hear the word elope, they instantly think of a couple sneaking off the Vegas to get married. Elopement (primarily when referring to autism) is when a person leaves an area without permission or notification, quickly putting the person in a potentially dangerous situation.
Elopement can happen when a person wanders or bolts away from a safe area. These can be places such as a classroom, parent, or home. As you can imagine, the combination of autism and wandering can be a hazardous mix.
Why do children with autism wander?
This is one of those questions that doesn’t have a steady answer. According to the study done in 2012 appears online in the journal
- Enjoys exploring (54%)
- Heads for a favorite place (36%)
- Escapes demands/anxieties (33%)
- Pursues special topic (31%)
- Escapes sensory discomfort (27%)
We have three children with autism who are very different within our home. Our youngest daughter wanders due to anxiety. When she is in a complete meltdown, there is a very high chance she will bolt to escape her anxiety.
Our son won’t wander off when he has anxiety. However, he will wander “just because.”
Our oldest daughter with autism doesn’t wander at all.
What Can I do to Stop my child with autism from wandering?
One of the first things you can do to help prevent wandering is to understand what type of
If you can avoid the trigger, you can avoid many cases of wandering or be prepared for it to happen. Some triggers (like sudden running) are not predictable, but you can take precautions to help keep them safe. For our children, it usually happenings during transitioning.
What precautions should I take?
You can take several precautionary steps if your child with autism wanders off. Out of this entire list, the first one is the most important. Please teach your child with autism to swim.
Many children with autism are drawn to water. Others can quickly just run into a body of water without intending to. Either way, knowing how to swim is the difference between life and death.
- Swimming Lessons (to prevent drownings)
- Secure your home (hook & eye locks, fencing, stop signs on doors, Home Security Systems
- GPS tracking Devices like Jiobit or AngelSense
- Medical ID Bracelets (or strong labels on tags and shoes)
- Address wandering with all caregivers (daycare, school, etc)
- Have a child safety kit filled out and on hand
- Make sure bodies of water are blocked off
Autism and wandering, unfortunately, tend to go hand in hand. Like any other concern, educating yourself is the best preventable measure you can take. Another great resource I have found is the Big Red Safety Toolkit from the National Autism Association. You can download your free copy here.