Wandering and Elopement – Searching for a Child with Autism


adv_autism-speaksThis post is provided by Kim Wombles, on behalf of Autism Speaks- Dallas Chapter. Kim is an English and psychology instructor, is a parent to three on the spectrum and co-runs the Autism Blogs Directory with over 1,000 blogs and websites relating to autism and other disabilities. She writes scientific pieces on autism, psychology, pseudoscience and more at Science 2.0. She was active in voicing support for the wandering code recently added to the ICD-9-CM in several articles at Science 2.0.

When searching for an autistic individual who has gone missing or wandered, it is important for the persons searching to tailor search procedures to fit the individual they are looking for.

In an Interactive Autism Network survey, parents reported that nearly half of all autistic children wander or elope. While all parents are used to toddlers darting away from them, many autistic children experience continued wandering behavior past what is age-appropriate.

The National Autism Association provides detailed suggestions for parents on how to protect against wandering and what to do if a child wanders. In order to help emergency responders have the most effective information to recover a lost child, parents should have a plan in place if they have a child prone to eloping or wandering. Current photos and statistics of height and weight are vitally important, as are a list of characteristics of the child.

Is the child verbal?

Where are the child’s favorite places?

Will the child respond to strangers?

Has the child been given any instruction in what to do if he wanders away from home?

Response teams, armed with specific information about the individual, will be able to tailor their search efforts to the individual. If loud noises disturb the individual, responders may choose to soften their calls for the individual. If the autistic individual doesn’t respond to verbal commands and has a tendency to hide in out-of-sight places, responders will know that their efforts must include looking carefully in secluded places rather than assuming the person will respond verbally.

Parents should have their child’s personal information ready to provide to first responders, and the free service Smart911 can make those first moments after a child goes missing much easier on parents and first responders alike.


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