Anecdotally, parents of children with autism
spectrum disorders (ASD) report that their children often place themselves in
danger by wandering off, or “eloping.” For the first time, a study has
determined the frequency of these elopements in children with ASD and the impact
on children and families.
The study, “Occurrence and Family Impact of Elopement in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” published in the November
2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online Oct. 8) was funded by several autism
advocacy organizations and led and conducted by the Interactive Autism Network
at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
surveyed 1,367 families with children between the ages of 4 and 17 who
had been diagnosed with ASD. Nearly half – 598, or 49 percent – of the families
reported that their child had attempted to elope at least once after age 4. Of
those, 316 children went missing long enough to cause concern.
Greater autism severity was associated with
increased elopement risk. Children eloped most commonly from their home, a
store, classroom or school. Nearly half of parents said their child’s elopement
was focused on an intent to go somewhere or do something, versus being confused
or lost. Close calls with calamities like traffic injury or drowning are
frequent, with police called in more than a third of cases.
Of parents whose children had eloped, 43
percent said the issue had prevented family members from getting a good night’s
sleep, and 62 percent said their concerns had prevented family from attending or
enjoying activities outside the home. For 56 percent of parents, elopement was
one of the most stressful behaviors they had to cope with as caregivers of a
child with ASD, and half said they received no guidance from anyone on
preventing or addressing this behavior.
Until more research can be conducted to
develop interventions to address elopement, study authors hope the results of
the study will inform families, doctors, educators and first responders who
grapple with the consequences of
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an
organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical
subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the
health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and
young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.