Print, Share, or View Spanish version of this article
This is the tendency for an individual to try to leave the safety of a responsible person's care or a safe area, which can result in potential harm or injury. This might include running off from adults at school or in the community, leaving the classroom without permission, or leaving the house when the family is not looking. This behavior is considered common and short-lived in toddlers, but it may persist in children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Children with ASDs have challenges with social and communication skills and safety awareness. This makes wandering a potentially dangerous behavior.
According to a recent survey of parents, nearly half of children with ASDs between the ages of 4 and 10 have tried to elope. This behavior may continue to occur in some older children and even teenagers and adults with ASDs. This is concerning because many individuals with ASDs may not be able to communicate their names, addresses, or phone numbers if they become lost.
Of the children with ASDs who tried to wander, nearly half succeeded and were missing long enough to concern their parents. One-third of the parents surveyed called the police. Two out of 3 parents reported their wandering children had “close calls” with traffic injury, and almost one-third reported near-drowning episodes. Older children and adults with ASDs who wander may also have negative encounters with law enforcement officers, particularly if they do not respond to officers in an expected way or if they are unable to communicate at all. Untrained officers may mistake ASDs for intoxication or drug use.
Parents of children with ASDs report the following top 5 reasons for wandering:
Simple enjoyment of running or exploring
Desire to reach a place he enjoys (such as the park)
Trying to escape an anxious situation (like demands at school)
Pursuit of a special interest (as when a child fascinated by trains heads for train tracks)
Trying to escape uncomfortable sensory stimuli (like loud noise)
Be aware that wandering can occur anywhere and anytime. Caregivers should be free of distractions when supervising a child with an ASD. Family gatherings or other events may give a false impression of “all eyes on” a child, but visiting relatives create changes of routine, which can increase risk for elopement. Also remember that children with ASDs who are outside playing may need extra supervision to prevent wandering.
Secure your home. This might include installing dead bolts, a home security alarm system, battery-operated alarms on doors and windows, and fencing around your yard.
Teach alternative behaviors. If a child is wandering to obtain something preferred or to escape a situation, teach alternative ways to request and access these situations.
Alert your neighbors. Knowing your neighbors can help reduce the risk associated with elopement. Consider giving your neighbors information about your child that you think might help in preventing wandering.
Create a family wandering emergency plan. Make sure your family has a plan in case of a wandering emergency. Involve other caregivers such as grandparents or personnel at school in developing the safety plan. The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education (AWAARE) Collaboration has a sample plan that can be downloaded (see Resources).
Maintain an emergency form. Keep up-to-date information cards about your child, including a picture and physical description of your child. These can be distributed to neighbors and safety personnel in the event your child wanders.
Consider a tracking device. These devices are worn on the wrist or ankle and locate the child through radio frequency or with GPS tracking. Check with your local law enforcement agency for more information (also see Resources).
Consider an ID bracelet or other ID device. Medical ID bracelets and devices will include name, telephone number, and other important information. If your child will not wear a bracelet, there are alternative ways (for example, temporary tattoos) (see Resources). When vacationing away from home, it is especially important that your child has some form of identification that can be easily recognized in case of elopement.
Teach safety skills. Work with your intervention team to evaluate your child's safety skills and proactively teach skills to help your child identify herself and stay safe (for example, state name, respond to “stop,” wear and show an ID bracelet).
Teach your child to swim. Ask your pediatrician if there are organizations that offer swimming lessons for children with special needs in your area. If you own a pool, completely fence it in and have gates that self-close and self-latch higher than your child's reach.
Alert first responders. Your community may have programs that allow you to provide first responders with key information about your child before an incident occurs. This information might include emergency contact information, a photo, and any other information about your child that might help should she become lost.
American Academy of Pediatrics HealthyChildren.org: www.HealthyChildren.org
Autism Society Safe & Sound Initiative: www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/how-we-can-help/safe-and-sound
Autism Speaks Family Services Autism Safety Project: www.autismsafetyproject.org
Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education (AWAARE) Collaboration: www.awaare.org
Interactive Autism Network (IAN) Elopement and Wandering Questionnaire: www.iancommunity.org/cs/ian_research/elopement_and_wandering_questionnaire
Family handout from Autism: Caring for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Resource Toolkit for Clinicians, 2nd Edition, developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Children With Disabilities Autism Subcommittee (ASC).
The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.
If you think that you are having a medical emergency,
call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!
And when in doubt, call your doctor NOW
or go to the closest emergency department.
By using this website, you accept the information provided herein "AS IS." Neither RemedyConnect nor the providers of the information contained herein will have any liability to you arising out of your use of the information contained herein or make any express or implied warranty regarding the accuracy, content, completeness, reliability, or efficacy of the information contained within this website.
RemedyConnect, Inc. has created this privacy statement in order to demonstrate our firm commitment to your privacy. The following discloses our information gathering and dissemination practices for this website: http://www.remedyconnect.com.
Acquisition of Information through PMD
We do not acquire any more information about website visitors than is required by law or is otherwise necessary to provide a high level of service efficiently and securely. Our site's registration form requires users to give us contact information (e.g., their name and e-mail address) and demographic information (e.g., children's birth months, but not birth dates). We use customer contact information from the registration form to (1) send the user pertinent medical and parenting information and (2) allow your local health provider lists of who is registering on that provider's site as a parent/guardian, staff member, doctor, or visitor. Users may opt-out of receiving future mailings; see the choice/opt-out section below.
We use your IP address to help diagnose problems with our server and to administer our Website. Your IP address is used to help identify you and to gather broad demographic information.
Demographic and profile data is also collected at our site. We may use this data to tailor the visitor's experience at our site, showing them content that we think they might be interested in, and displaying the content according to their preferences.
Our site may use order forms to allow users to request information, products, and services.
Your Doctor's Right to Privacy
We will respect your doctor's right to privacy. A doctor typically does not give his/her e-mail address to the parents/guardians of patients. We will not provide the e-mail addresses of doctor(s) in the local practice to users of their site without the doctor(s)' permission. Their site is restricted to use by whomever they wish, and they may deny access to their site to one or more prior users. In unusual cases, doctors may change their private site's access code and arrange for us to e-mail the new access code to approved users.
This site contains links to other sites. RemedyConnect.com is not responsible for the privacy practices or the content of such Websites. See Disclaimers.
Disclosure to Third Parties
We will provide individually-identifiable information about website users to third parties only if we are compelled to do so by order of a duly-empowered governmental authority, we have the express permission of the visitor, or it is necessary to process transactions and provide you services from our affiliates: Live Agent Answering Service, Digital Answering Service, Medical Answering Service and Pediatric Answering Service.
Privacy and Our Business Partners
This site may make chat rooms, forums, message boards, and/or news groups available to its users. Please remember that any information that is disclosed in these areas becomes public information and you should exercise caution when deciding to disclose your personal information.
This site has security measures in place to protect the loss, misuse and alteration of the information under our control. For further information regarding our security, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any concerns regarding the security of information, please do not provide any information to RemedyConnect, Inc. until you are comfortable with our security measures.
You may correct or update your User Registration information at any time, by visiting the User Registration section and providing your personal password that you set at registration. If need be, please email us at email@example.com.
Our site provides users the opportunity to opt-out of receiving e-mail communications from our partners or us, except communications approved by your doctor's practice office. To so opt-out, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To be removed as a user, please email us at the same address. If need be, you may mail requests to us at RemedyConnect, Inc., 9200 E. Mineral Avenue, Suite 100, Centennial, CO 80112. Our telephone number is 303-793-0703.
Contacting the Website
If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, or your dealings with this Website, you can contact us by email at email@example.com or by mail at our address above.