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 own 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.

Autistic children often engage in wandering behavior. These tips will help you prevent your special needs or child with from wandering. #autismawareness #autismparenting

What is Elopement?

When many people hear the word elope, they instantly think of a couple sneaking off the Vegas to get married. Elopement (especially when referring to autism) is when a person leaves an area without permission or notification, easily putting the person in a potentially dangerous situation. 

This can be when a child wanders or bolts away from a safe area 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 Pediatrics, these are the top 5 reasons why children with autism wander:

Understanding autism elopement is key to helping your child stay safe #autism #autismparenting #autismawareness

Within our home, we have three children with autism who are very different from each other.  Our youngest daughter wanders due to anxiety.  When she is in a full 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.”  Whatever catches his attention, he is bound and determined to go to it.  He is the one that worries me the most as his wandering is much less predictable.  

Our oldest daughter with autism doesn’t wander at all. Each child with autism is different and will have different reasons/causes for wandering.

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 wander they are (impulsive, goal-focused, random, sudden runner, etc.).  Once you have done this, you will need to determine the trigger that causes them to elope. Knowing the triggers of why they wander helps greatly.

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 normally happenings during transitioning.

Understanding autism elopement is key to helping your child stay safe #autism #autismparenting #autismawareness

What precautions should I take?

There are several precautionary steps you can take 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 easily just run into a body of water without intending to.  Either way, knowing how to swim is the difference between life and death.

Autism and wandering, unfortunately, tend to go hand in hand.  Just 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.

The Mom Kind

Alicia Trautwein is an Autism advocate, writer, motivational speaker, and dedicated mom of four. Alicia’s desire to advocate for Autism comes from her own autism diagnosis and that of her three children, niece, and brother. Her life’s mission is to educate on autism acceptance and change the world for future generations of autistic individuals.

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