4 Common Causes of Elopement in Autism

Elopement in Autism

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What is Elopement in Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterized by challenges in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. One lesser-known aspect of ASD is elopement, also referred to as wandering, bolting, or running off. Elopement in autism can be a distressing experience for both individuals with autism and their caregivers, often leading to safety concerns and heightened anxiety.

Elopement is a term known more commonly to refer to couples secretly running away. So, what is elopement in autism? It refers to the tendency of individuals with autism to wander away from a supervised or safe environment. This behavior can manifest in various forms, from simply walking around the neighborhood to making a sudden, purposeful dash toward a specific destination.

In this blog, ABA Centers of Virginia guides parents and caregivers in Arlington and Washington, D.C., to effectively understand, manage, and prevent elopement in autism.

4 Causes of Elopement in Autism

Now we know that elopement is running away from safe places without the supervision of a caregiver, let’s understand that these behaviors can pose significant risks, as individuals on the spectrum may be unaware of dangerous situations or cannot communicate their whereabouts effectively.

Moreover, The National Library of Medicine indicates that children with ASD are at a higher risk for injury-related fatalities, mainly due to unintentional drowning. Research covering the period from January 2000 to May 2017 identified 23 instances of fatal drownings in children under 15 with ASD.

Since people diagnosed with autism experience the world and their surroundings in unique ways, the causes may vary. However, some common factors may contribute to elopement in autism, including:

1. Sensory Overload: Individuals with ASD may elope to escape overwhelming sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, or crowded spaces.

2. Desire for Routine or Special Interest: Wander away may occur when a person with autism fixates on a particular location, object, or activity and seeks to engage with it.

For example, an individual with autism may take a particular interest in traffic signals. In this case, they may bolt and impulsively cross the street to get a closer look at the traffic signal posted on the opposite side despite the potential safety hazards.

3. Communication Difficulties: Difficulty in expressing needs or desires may lead individuals to elope in search of something they cannot articulate.

4. Anxiety or Fear: Feelings of anxiety or fear, whether related to social situations, transitions, or unfamiliar environments, can trigger elopement as a coping mechanism.

Managing and Preventing Elopement


Strategies to avoid elopement in autism

For parents and caregivers of children with autism, it is essential to identify the potential risks that a neurodivergent individual may experience, not only at home but everywhere else. Experts have identified that children with ASD may experience more significant risk than neurotypical individuals.

For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics collected data through an online questionnaire from parents of 1218 children with ASD and 1076 of their siblings without ASD. They found that 49% of children with ASD attempted to elope at least once after the age of 4, with 26% remaining missing long enough to cause concern. Among those who went missing, 24% were at risk of drowning, and 65% were at risk of traffic injury. Researchers found that the likelihood of elopement was higher in individuals with more severe cases of autism compared to those with milder cases. Moreover, siblings without ASD had lower rates of elopement.

Effective management and prevention strategies are crucial for ensuring the safety and well-being of your kiddos. Here are some tips you can follow:

Create a Safe Environment – Minimize potential hazards and secure doors and windows to prevent unauthorized exits.

Establish Routines – Consistent daily schedules and visual schedules can provide structure and predictability, reducing the likelihood of elopement.

Teach Safety Skills – Teach your kid and family about safety rules, such as staying within designated areas and seeking help from trusted adults. You can use visual aids to support engagement.

Use Visual Supports – Visual cues, such as picture schedules or social stories, can help individuals on the spectrum understand expectations and navigate their surroundings, whether going out or just teaching your kid safe places at home and avoiding certain areas.

Implement Tracking Devices – Consider using GPS tracking devices or wearable technology to monitor the location of individuals with autism in case of elopement.

Professional Support

While implementing these strategies can be beneficial in managing elopement in autism, it’s crucial to acknowledge everyone’s uniqueness and potential variability in their needs. For more comprehensive guidance and support tailored to your children’s specific requirements, it’s advisable to seek assistance from professionals trained in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

ABA therapy is a well-established approach that focuses on addressing challenging behaviors, including elopement, through systematic assessment and intervention. ABA therapists work closely with individuals with ASD and families to identify triggers and develop personalized strategies to teach alternative skills and promote positive behavior change.

By collaborating with ABA professionals, families can access specialized expertise and resources to effectively address elopement and other behavioral challenges faced by individuals with ASD.

ABA Centers of Virginia and Autism Support

Understanding and effectively managing elopement in autism requires patience, empathy, and a multifaceted approach. By implementing proactive strategies and seeking professional guidance when needed, parents can confidently navigate challenging behaviors and ensure the safety and well-being of their loved ones.

ABA Centers of Virginia provides autism care support from early diagnosis, intervention, and personalized ABA therapy, whether at our center or in the comfort of your home; our ABA therapist and autism specialist empower individuals with ASD to improve their skills within their capacity and goals.

Let a professional teach your child to navigate the surroundings safely. Call us at (855) 957-1892 or leave us a message on our website; we specialize in generating valuable life skills.


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