Will a Medical Diagnostic Code for Elopement Protect Those at Risk?

The ICD (International Classification of Diseases) Coordination and Maintenance Committee  has put the creation of a medical diagnostic code for wandering and elopement on their agenda.

The ICD Coordination and Maintenance Committee is a federal committee of representatives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

According to The National Autism Association, a diagnosis code for wandering and elopement would be beneficial in the following ways:

  • A diagnosis code would enable data collection on the incidence of wandering, leading to more opportunities for prevention and education for doctors, parents, school personnel, and emergency medical personnel.
  • Since many individuals with autism are non-verbal and unable to respond to their name, a diagnosis code would potentially lead to the development of effective search-and-rescue response protocols.
  • A diagnosis code could lead to much-needed insurance coverage, critical for those unable to afford protection.
  • A diagnosis would increase understanding in the public school setting. Sometimes wandering is perceived as bad behavior, rather than a medical condition. This has led to a lack of training on behalf of school personnel.
  • When an individual with autism elopes due to a trigger, they are often exposed to restraint methods. A diagnosis code will help establish methods to effectively eliminate triggers, thereby reducing the need for restraint.

Elopement is a serious concern among families in the autism community. Although the causes of it are unclear, many individuals with autism elope to either get to something or to get away from something in their current environment. Research has shown that elopement is usually a behavior with a function, or a cause, in the environment, and can therefore be addressed with function-based behavioral intervention.

A common misperception of elopement is that it is caused by parental negligence and that parents need to keep a closer watch on their children. On the contrary, parents of individuals with autism are often extremely vigilant and take extraordinary measures to keep their child safe.

Behavioral intervention has been shown to be effective for the treatment of elopement, but more research is needed to address the following questions:

  • What is the incidence rate?
  • In what type of environment it is likely to occur?
  • What type of environmental supports may help decrease elopement?

If you would like to get involved and lend your support, the ICD Committee accepts code revision proposals from the public. You can submit your letter to Donna Pickett at DPickett@cdc.gov.

The deadline for submission is April 1, 2011.





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