What is Wandering or Elopement?
These are interchangeable terms used to describe when an individual exits or wanders away from their home– or from a known adult, when out in public. Elopement isn’t always the individual running away from you at full speed; children might also hide in public settings, try to get into other people’s cars, or sneak out of their homes at night when everyone is asleep.
The issue of elopement & Autism is very serious. All you have to do is read the newspaper or watch the evening news to hear about children, adolescents, and adults with autism wandering away from home and being gone for hours or even days. Sometimes these stories have tragic endings that leave everyone wondering, “What could we have done differently to avoid this?”
◉ According to 2012 data published in Pediatrics, 49% of Autistic children attempt to elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times higher than children without ASD.
◉ More than one-third of Autistic children who wander are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number.
◉ 29% of elopement cases happen when a child wanders from a classroom or school.
◉ Accidental drowning accounts for approximately 70% of lethal outcomes, followed by fatal traffic injury.
Ways to Reduce Wandering & Elopement
Here are some examples of strategies you can use in your classroom, and throughout your facility, to help reduce wandering and elopement:
After establishing any rule or system it is important that you be consistent in how you use and enforce it; do the same thing every time, using the manner in which you first explained it to the child. Failure to do so can have serious consequences. For instance, if a child is running away from you and you yell out their name, rather than “STOP” or whatever word you practiced, the child may not understand they are supposed to stop.
Remember: What we sometimes see as a failure to behave properly, is actually a failure to communicate properly. Get on the child’s level and ask them if they need to take a break. If the child can communicate, they can learn to request a break. Particularly in public settings like festivals, malls, or outdoor events, children with ASD may elope to escape from unwanted noise or large crowds.
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