Elopement and Autism: What It Is, Risks & Prevention

It’s common for children who have autism to run or wander away from caregivers or secure locations.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

Elopement and Autism

Elopement, or wandering, is a common behavior among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It's when a child with autism leaves a safe space or caregiver without permission or supervision.

Elopement can be a serious safety concern for individuals with ASD and their families. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind elopement, the risks associated with it, and some strategies to prevent it.

Why do individuals with ASD elope?

There are many reasons why individuals with ASD may elope. Some may do it to seek sensory stimulation or to escape from an uncomfortable situation.

Others may be motivated by a special interest or curiosity. Elopement can also be a way of communicating a need or desire that is not being met. For example, a child may elope to get to a favorite playground or to see a beloved pet.

What are the risks associated with elopement?

Elopement can pose serious risks to individuals with ASD. They may wander into dangerous areas such as busy streets, bodies of water, or construction sites. They may also become lost or injured.

Elopement can cause significant stress and anxiety for families and caregivers. It can also lead to negative interactions with law enforcement or emergency responders.

How can elopement be prevented?

Preventing elopement requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the underlying reasons behind the behavior. Here are some strategies that can help:

  1. Create a safe and secure environment: This can include installing locks, alarms, and fences. It can also involve teaching the individual with ASD to stay in designated areas or rooms.
  2. Provide sensory input: Individuals with ASD may elope to seek sensory stimulation. Providing appropriate sensory input such as weighted blankets, fidget toys, or calming music can help reduce the urge to elope.
  3. Teach communication skills: Elopement can be a way of communicating a need or desire. Teaching individuals with ASD to communicate their needs through words, pictures, or sign language can help reduce the need to elope.
  4. Develop a plan: Families and caregivers should develop a plan for what to do in case of elopement. This can include having a recent photo and description of the individual, knowing their favorite places to go, and having a list of emergency contacts.
  5. Seek professional help: If elopement is a persistent and serious concern, families and caregivers should seek professional help. This can include working with a behavior analyst or therapist to develop a comprehensive plan to address the behavior.

Identifying Triggers for Elopement

One of the keys to preventing elopement is identifying the underlying triggers that cause the behavior. By understanding what motivates an individual with ASD to elope, caregivers and families can take steps to reduce or eliminate those triggers.

Some common triggers for elopement may include:

  • Sensory overload: Individuals with ASD may become overwhelmed by sensory stimuli such as noise, crowds, or bright lights. Elopement can be a way of escaping from these overwhelming situations.
  • Routine disruption: Changes in routine or unexpected events can be unsettling for individuals with ASD. Elopement may be a way of seeking predictability and control.
  • Special interests: Individuals with ASD may have intense interests in specific topics or activities. Elopement may be motivated by a desire to pursue those interests.
  • Communication difficulties: Individuals with ASD may struggle to communicate their needs or desires effectively. Elopement can be a way of expressing frustration or seeking attention.

Caregivers and families can identify these triggers by carefully observing the individual's behavior and keeping track of when elopements occur.

They can also work with professionals such as therapists or behavior analysts to develop strategies for addressing these triggers and reducing the likelihood of elopement.

In conclusion, elopement is a common behavior among individuals with ASD that can pose serious risks to their safety and well-being.

Understanding the reasons behind elopement and implementing strategies to prevent it can help ensure a safe and secure environment for individuals with ASD and their families.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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