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Autism and the Elopement Concern

May 2, 2014

If you are raising a child with autism or any pervasive developmental disorder, you should prepare for the possibility of elopement (running/wandering away from a home or caretaker).

Children with autism attempt to elope from a safe environment at a rate four times that of typically developing children (Kennedy Krieger Institute research project, 2011). This can be especially dangerous when a child does not possess the ability to communicate his name, address, or phone number.

There is no such thing as being too careful or too prepared. Whatever preparation strategies you elect to employ will largely depend on your community, policies of your local police, and the terrain around your home.

Any strategy should include creating an Autism Emergency Form as one of the very first steps. You will use this form proactively and also keep it handy to give it to those offering help if your child does wander. You should approach your local law enforcement with the form. In most instances, they will allow you to register with them so that they have your child’s information already on hand in case of an emergency. What to include on the form:

  • Recent realistic photos of your child (If your child does not smile very often, do not include a photo with a coaxed smile)
  • Full name of your child, as well as names he or she will respond to (or not respond to)
  • Written physical description including height, weight, eye and hair color, any identifying marks or characteristics such as unusual hand movements or gait
  • Names, as well as all home, work, and mobile numbers of parents and other caregivers, as well as that of the primary physician familiar with child’s autism
  • Prioritized list of emergency contact persons if parents are not reachable
  • especially hot buttons. What happens if touched
  • Medical or dietary issues, including medications and allergies
  • Previous elopement behaviors and destinations if any
  • Favorite attractions where the child may likely go
  • Best ways to approach the child and ways to de-escalate panic and tantrums
  • Ways to communicate. Be specific. If nonverbal, does the child respond to sign language, written words, or pictures? Include relevant pictures or signs that may help calm the child
  • Mention any ID bracelet, shoe tags, or printout card the child may be carrying
  • Details about tracking devices if they are in play
  • Any dangers that the child might present to him or herself or others such as setting fires, biting, or compulsive eating of nonfood items
Father playing with his little girl at home Father playing with his little girl at home