Elopement can be defined as a dependent person leaving a supervised, safe space or the caregiver without notification, resulting in exposure to potential danger. It is also known as wandering or running. It can happen at any time, anywhere, no matter who may be watching. This can include leaving school without permission or sneaking out of home in the middle of the night.
Eloping is particularly common in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Consequently, this is a big hazard as those with ASD typically experience difficulties in using safety precautions and may be oblivious to threatening situations. Wandering has been characterized as the greatest cause of stress in families with children on the spectrum in numerous studies.
Statistics of elopement:
- Nearly half of children with ASD engage in eloping
- 65% of children who wander have close calls with traffic injury
- 27% of children who wander have close calls with drowning
Research has concluded that wandering is a goal-directed behavior driven by certain motivations. Reasons why children choose to elope include:
- Enjoyment of running and/or exploring
- To reach a preferred location
- To pursue a special interest
- Escapement of an undesirable situation or stimulus
The best way to handle elopement is through prevention efforts. There are many different strategies that can be in place to stop any opportunity of wandering that might arise.
Strategies to prevent elopement:
- Look for warning signs: Some children give subtle clues right before they decide to wander, such as glancing towards the door. Learning the child’s warning signs can draw the attention necessary to inhibit wandering.
- Provide direct supervision: With one-on-one supervision, the child is receiving undivided attention. This makes it extremely difficult for eloping to be initiated unknowingly.
- Set boundaries: Physical boundaries such as fences or gates can make it less likely that the child will be able to go off on their own. The use of a leash in public areas is also a beneficial tool.
- Use security: Using locks on doors can prevent the child from accessing unsupervised areas. In addition, having door alarms or a trained service dog can act as a helpful alert to check the status of your child.
- Clear communication: If you know your child participates in eloping, it is important to let anyone caring for your child to know this and the strategies that work best to raise awareness of potential danger.
- GPS trackers: Having a tracker can inform you where your child is at all times.
While prevention efforts can be promising, it is not impossible for a situation to occur that results in your child successfully eloping. It is essential that there is a plan formulated just in case of emergency. This allows the most efficient and effective response to wandering, favoring the return of your child back to safety.