Elopement and Wandering.
Alicia Trautwein, is a mother of four as well as a writer, motivational speaker, and advocate for autism. Her passion for advocacy comes from her own diagnosis with autism as well as that of three of her children, her nieces, and brother. She wrote on her website, The Mom Kind, an article titled, "What to do When Children with Autism Wander," to talk about what you can do as a parent to handle scenarios when your child may wander or elope. Elopement, which is also referred to as wandering, is a regular, and terrifying occurrence in children with autism. It is technically described as the act of someone, in this case, a child, leaving an area without permission or notification, putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. This behavior can happen in a number of places that would be considered "safe," like the classroom, home, or store with a parent. There isn't one clear answer to the question of why children with autism elope, however, a study from 2012 formulated a list of five probable reasons for this behavior. Of the participants in the study, they found that 54% enjoyed exploring, 36% are heading for their favorite place, 33% are escaping demands or anxieties, 31% are pursuing a special topic, and 27% are escaping sensory discomfort. What Trautwein has found with her own children is that every child with autism is different, especially when it comes to wandering. They will not all wander for the same reason, and some may not wander at all. One thing you can do to try and stop your child from wandering is, understand what type of wanderer they are. They could be impulsive, goal-focused, random, sudden runner; knowing the type and what triggers them will be extremely helpful in trying to modify the behavior. Once you acknowledge the triggers, you can take a few precautionary steps just in case your child wanders off. The first precaution you can take is, enroll your child in swimming lessons, to prevent drowning if they are drawn to water. Next, secure your home with locks, fencing, signs on doors, and a home security system. You could also get a GPS tracking device, and she lists some options in the article to weigh and see if that's a possibility. You can label your child's shoes and tags or get medical ID bracelets as identification. Also, it would be smart to let any caregivers or teachers know about this wandering behavior, whether that be at school, church, or daycare. Be sure to have a child safety kit filled out and on hand at all times. Trautwein suggests the Big Red Safety Toolkit from the National Autism Association; she provides a link to a free copy on her site. Lastly, if you are going somewhere with a body of water, even though your child knows how to swim (hopefully, if you take precaution #1), make sure that all bodies of water that you may be around are blocked off. For example, if you are going to a park around a lake or river, make sure your child can't easily wander off and jump into that body of water. As we noted earlier, autism and wandering seem to go hand in hand, however, as long as you take the necessary precautionary steps, you can avoid immediate danger for your child in case they do decide to wander off.