Elopement or Wandering

November 15, 2013

boy exiting building

Elopement, which can be defined as running away from or leaving a designated area such as a classroom or the home environment, is one of the highest priority of challenging behaviors for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.


Elopement can be a frightening experience for family members as well as the individual with an autism spectrum disorder. In dealing with elopement, prevention is the first step.  Here are some tips:

  • Safeguard your home:  Consider putting dead bolts up high on all doors leading to the outside and installing window guards to prevent escape or dangerous falls.
  • Inform your neighbors and police.  Sometimes an individual may wander into a neighbor’s yard or enter a neighbor’s house, even in the middle of the night. Alerting them as well as local police that your family member with autism elopes can help everyone react more quickly in case the unfortunate does happen.
  • Work with your school to address the issue.  For school-aged children, parents can work with the child study team to develop a comprehensive written plan to address issues of elopement. This written plan should include a Functional Behavior Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plan. The Functional Behavior Assessment can help to answer why the elopement occurs and the Behavior Intervention Plan can teach replacement skills instead of eloping.

Safety Products and Resources:

There are a number of products available to families who are raising a child who elopes. These range from alarms that indicate when a door is opened, to identification bracelets to tracking devices.  The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education (AWAARE) Collaboration offers some good resources and other tips.

Project Lifesaver is a rapid response and recovery program offered in all twenty-one counties of the state of New Jersey for individuals with autism, Alzheimer’s and/or other disabilities. Project Lifesaver is a partnership with local law enforcement that helps locating missing persons. “Project Lifesaver relies on proven radio technology and a specially trained search and rescue team. Clients who are enrolled in the program wear a personalized wristband that emits a tracking signal. When caregivers notify the local Sheriff’s office that a person is missing, a search and rescue team responds to the wanderer’s area and starts searching with the mobile locator tracking system.” The entire state of New Jersey is covered by Project Lifesaver so families vacationing in the Garden State can feel a sense of security. Even if a family is vacationing out of state, the Sheriff’s office in that state may also be able to retrieve Project Lifesaver information.  There may be a cost associated with enrolling in the program and it may vary by county.

For more information about addressing elopement as part of an Individualized Educational Program, please call us at 800.4.AUTISM.

First Responders:  Please call 800.4.AUTISM for training resources.

If a person with autism goes missing or wanders, families and caregivers should call local authorities or 911 immediately.