- Autism & Developmental Services
Written By: Celeste Moneme, BCBA, LBA
If you have a child that elopes, you are probably all too familiar with the stress and worry that come with knowing your child may wind up in a dangerous situation within a blink of an eye. Elopement is a significant safety concern that can have deadly consequences.
You may have deadbolts and latches on your doors and windows. Going on vacation or visiting with friends or relatives may have you on high alert. You may often feel anxious and on edge with constantly having to monitor your child’s whereabouts.
A survey conducted by the Interactive Autism Network in 2011, found that 49% of children between the ages of 4 and 10 engaged in elopement at least once. The results of their study also found that elopement is more common in children with autism than their typically developing peers.
Elopement is generally defined as when a child leaves a specified area without their caregiver’s permission or supervision. There are many reasons why children engage in elopement behavior. Recent studies have identified the following reasons elopement occurs in children with autism:
If you have a child that elopes, it is recommended that you keep a behavior log of the elopement (Walker & McAdams, 2015). This may help you to better understand the purpose elopement serves for your child. The log should include:
By doing this, you may see a pattern of behavior that can give you an idea of what is triggering the elopement. For instance, if your child typically elopes from the bathroom while getting undressed around 7 p.m., they may be avoiding taking a bath. If they try to elope from the home every Sunday afternoon while company is visiting, the child may enjoy the attention of several concerned relatives taking off after them. It is also important to know how you respond to the elopement, as your response may inadvertently encourage or reinforce the behavior.
For example, if you laugh or smile while chasing after your child, they may think it is a game. You may want to consider enlisting the help of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who can provide a functional assessment to help determine why the behavior occurs. The BCBA can also provide professional training and guidance on how to handle the behavior.
While working with a behavior support team will provide you with specific strategies to address elopement, there are many practical steps you can take to help keep your child as safe as possible. Here are some recommendations:
For additional reading, please check out these references:
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