Elopement, or “running away” is a common behavioral issue in children with autism and one that can be both dangerous and frustrating for kids and their caregivers alike. However, the first step to stopping this behavior is understanding it and why it happens. Take a look below.
What Does Elopement in Autism Mean?
Elopement is a common action for children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who run or wander away from caregivers or secure locations. They are typically running toward something or away from something and can do so seemingly without reason. Many times, children will get lost or may end up in potentially dangerous or life-threatening situations, especially if they are too young to look after themselves.
This action can be a traumatic situation for a child and their caregivers. This is why it is important for parents and all caregivers to understand eloping behavior, why it happens, and how to mitigate the risks when it does.
Why Do Children With Autism Elope?
Children with autism may elope for a variety of reasons. Some children elope to get to desired items or places. For example, a child might elope to get a favorite toy in a store. Other children with autism may find it hard to cope with certain everyday situations and may elope to get away from different stressors. For example, a child may elope to get away from a noisy birthday party.
Other children elope because they enjoy running or being chased by a caregiver, so they may elope when a caregiver is distracted. Every child is unique and has different reasons for eloping, but overall research indicates it is a common behavior among children with autism.
If you are caring for a child who engages in eloping behavior, the first step is to start a journal and begin logging instances of elopement, including what he or she may have been running toward or away from. Identifying common triggers can help you be more prepared to prevent elopement in the future.
How to Prevent Elopement
One of the first questions that parents have when their child with autism starts eloping is: how they can prevent it from happening. Here are some of the tips that can help prevent this type of behavior:
- Put locks on doors and windows that your child cannot unlock. If you use a key to lock windows and doors, ensure the key is easily accessible to adults in case of an emergency.
- Install alarms so you are alerted if your child has opened a door or window.
- Have your child wear a device that allows you to track her location. Some devices will alert you if your child has left a certain perimeter.
- Monitor your child frequently. During busy times when you may be more easily distracted, set a timer to remind yourself to check on your child.
- If your child has siblings, make sure that they also know how dangerous elopement can be so that they can help encourage your child to refrain from this behavior.
- Give frequent praise or rewards when your child doesn’t elope.
- Talk to your child about their elopement and help them understand why it frightens you when they run away and try to get to the root cause of the issue encouraging this behavior.
One of the first and most important things for parents to do is to start applying strategies to stop elopement entirely. Then, they need to learn how to reduce harm when their child does elope in the future.
How to Reduce Harm When Your Child Elopes
Even with plenty of preparation, parents will quickly realize that kids who are prone to eloping will always find a way to engage in this behavior. This is why it is also important to know how to reduce harm when your child does elope. Here are some of the top tips to keep in mind:
- Remain prepared for an elopement so you can act quickly and confidently.
- Notify all caregivers and teachers of your elopement plan so you can be ready to take action when something happens.
- Identify people such as neighbors and family who agree to help you search if needed.
- Prepare materials that include your child’s name, communication abilities, ways to calm your child if she is upset, a current picture, caregiver contact information, and places your child has commonly eloped to in the past. Distribute this information to individuals in your search party as well as public authorities as needed.
- Keep track of where your child is most likely to elope so you can check those spots first.
- Teach your child to recite his or her name, telephone number, and address, or keep this information attached to your child during times when elopement is likely to occur.
- If elopement is a regularly occurring issue for your child, seek assistance from a psychologist or behavior analyst with experience in treating elopement to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
Many parents find that CBT, or cognitive behavior therapy, is a great tool for helping children with autism understand behaviors such as eloping so they can work on correcting these tendencies and engaging in less-dangerous behaviors when the urge to elope arises.
As most parents already know, when a child runs away, time is of the essence, so the more prepared you are to act quickly, the better off you will be. Having a well-organized plan for when elopement happens is essential to making sure your child stays safe.
Nothing can be as frightening for parents as losing track of a child, and it can happen to any parent. However, parents of children with autism who engage in eloping behavior need to take extra precautions, particularly if this becomes a repeat issue. Having a detailed plan, working with your child, and seeking professional help are all great ways to help keep kids with this tendency safe.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.