In March 2011, the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) launched a survey addressing wandering and elopement behaviors among those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The survey was funded by The Autism Research Institute, The Autism Science Foundation, Autism Speaks, and the Global Autism Collaboration. The survey addressed the following questions:
- How often do individuals with ASD attempt to elope?
- How often do they succeed?
- Under what circumstances do they succeed?
- Which individuals with ASD are more prone to elope?
- At what age are individuals with ASD likely to elope?
- What burden does it place on caregivers and parents who try to thwart elopement behaviors?
- What can be done to protect individuals with ASD who elope?
Although IAN continues to collect survey data, they have released some preliminary results. These results are from 856 participants; mainly parents and caregivers of children with ASD who live in the United States. Please note that the preliminary results have not yet been peer reviewed or submitted for publication. See below for some of the initial findings:
- Nearly 50 percent of children with ASD between the ages of four and ten attempt to elope.
- Nearly 50 percent of children with ASD who attempted to elope actually succeeded, and were missing long enough to cause significant concern.
- The most-chosen motivations for elopement are: “simply enjoys exploring,” and “trying to reach a place he or she enjoys.”
The preliminary findings also revealed a startling lack of support for families. That is, close to half of the survey participants reported that they never received advice about wandering and elopement from a professional and only 14 percent received guidance from their pediatrician or another physician.
Obviously, the issue of wandering and elopement needs to be addressed sooner than later. Often, when a child or adult with ASD wanders, tragedy ensues. Although no formal data exists on the actual incidence rate of wandering, these types of cases are becoming very common and have been for some time. As of late, there is not much information available to parents and caregivers about how to keep their loved ones safe from the dangers of wandering and elopement.
This survey will help researchers document and understand elopement behaviors and will hopefully lead to the creation and implementation of effective state and federal policies that will provide public awareness, help, and support to parents and caretakers.
I encourage everyone to go to the IAN website and see if you are eligible to participate in this survey. The more information that is provided about elopement and wandering, the better the chances are to raise public awareness and protect those at risk.