Wandering Off (Elopement)—Autism Toolkit

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What is wandering off (elopement)?

This is when a person tries to leave the safety of a responsible person's care or a safe area. Harm or injury may then happen. Wandering happens in many ways. For example, running away from adults at school or in public, leaving the classroom without permission, or leaving the house when the family is not looking are kinds of wandering. Wandering is common in all toddlers. However, sometimes, wandering may continue or come back in older children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD have challenges with social skills and safety. That is why wandering can be dangerous and why there is a risk of serious injury.

How common is wandering off in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Research shows that about 1 in 3 young children with ASD has tried to wander off. This behavior may continue to happen in older children and even teenagers and adults with ASD. This is concerning since many people with ASD may not be able to share their names, addresses, or phone numbers if they get lost.

What happens to children with ASD who try to wander off?

Up to half of children with ASD who wander are missing long enough to concern their parents. In one survey, 1 out of 3 parents said they have called the police to help find a wandering child. Two out of 3 parents said their wandering children had close calls with traffic injuries. About 1 out of 3 parents reported near drowning in water. Older children and adults with ASD who wander may also have challenges with law enforcement officers. This might happen when they do not answer officers in a way officers expect or if they can't communicate at all. Untrained officers may mistakenly think that people with ASD are drunk or are using drugs.

Why do children with ASD wander off?

Children with ASD wander off for a variety of reasons. Some parents of children with ASD say their children have these reasons for wandering.

What can be done to decrease wandering?

What else can help keep my child safe?