Autism Awareness. Day 5 E is for Elopement

Day 5

E is for Elopement

“Check water first”. The most terrifying emergency directive a parent can hear….and this is the protocol for children with Autism who go missing. Elopement, wandering, bolting, fleeing. 48% of children with autism elope. Drowning is the leading cause of death in kids under 14 with Autism. We are lucky-A2 only gets distracted and wanders to find things that are interesting without regard to safety or whether a familiar adult is nearby–but he does not run from us–which prevents so many families from being able to go in public safely with their child. One of the things that makes A2’s non-elopement complicated as that he is not a risk…. until he is.  He can go a full year with staying in eye shot and then one day out of no where he will simply leave the house. With no warning. He also cannot tell anyone his first and last name with consistency or clarity.  He does not know his address or phone number despite years of practice.  He knows my full name, but unless you are a trained listener. you will not understand him.  We all know to approach a young child who appears to be lost, but most would not think to approach an older child or young adult. Be aware–this is one way we can all be a village to our families!

Unfortunately, there are limited ways to actually prevent elopement behaviors.  When we assume the function of behavior is escape we may be missing out on other factors.  Does he bolt and laugh while doing it as he watches you chase him (attention)?  Is he fascinated with streetlamps or water or heavy equipment and feels intense compulsion to go check it out (access or internal attenuation)?  Does he seem to leave only in specific situations or with specific people?  If you have a child that is a runner, consider tracking the behavior for antecedents and response or consequence (even when unintended), track the time of day and what was happening around him at the time.  Track WHAT the elopement looks like…does he run or is it more like walking away?  Does it change what it looks like based on the situation?  Besides lockdown and direct supervision, understanding your child’s behavior through data collection is your best preventative defense.

As far as what else you can do if your child is an elopement risk…again, limited but both high and low technology options can be lifesavers. If your county or police department have a special needs registry, register your child. There is a national initiative and grant called Project Lifesaver that your police department can utilize and get wristbands with gps or radio signal your child can wear. Keep an up to date photo of him on you at all times. Create a card he can carry with him with his information and use discrete trial training to teach him to hand it to someone if he cannot find you. Consider a cell phone and GPS tracking or the Find My iPhone App. There are tracking devices like available for a monthly fee. These attach to the inside of clothing.  Go online and search for other high and low tech options they are out there.

GPS tracking device reviews:

List of tracking, ID and safety products (not an exhaustive or all inclusive list):

It is easy not to move forward because we do not want to assume the worst…..but like for so many of us in many aspects of our lives with our kiddos…we have hope for the best…but plan for the worst.



6 thoughts on “Autism Awareness. Day 5 E is for Elopement

  1. TakingItAStepAtATime April 9, 2017 / 3:48 pm

    Like A2, DC can not give his personal information with any consistency – He does know it, but getting it out of him is another story. It is not always spoken in a way that is understandable to anyone but the people that know him. I did have the find my phone app but when we upgraded his phone, it won’t pick it up anymore. I am hoping if I take it to an AT&T store that they can fix it. We also got a “If I need help” tag for him to wear that has a bar code with all of his info on it. They have shoe tags in the event your child will not wear something around his neck. We did get the necklace, shoe tags and a card for his wallet. I figured I’d try everything to see what worked for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Frances April 5, 2019 / 5:46 pm

    One thing you did not mention is the importance of having some type of medical alert on a non-verbal person, whether it’s a bracelet, necklace or temporary tattoo that you re-do every 5-7 days. First responders know to look for medical alerts on a person, and it really, really helps. The hardest part is teaching a child to keep the medical alert on at all times, but it is possible. My son is great about wearing his bracelet, and he knows to show it to certain people.


    • Jaycee Kemp April 5, 2019 / 8:50 pm

      Yes! Thank you! Being in the trenches long enough we start to lose perspective on more traditional or simpler solutions. My child is similar in that he will not tolerate/lose/eat a traditional medical alert. Same with some of the larger GPS tracking devices. We have in the past used temporary tattoos with our phone number…and in recent years, just a sharpie marker 😉


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