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  • Writer's pictureCoField ABA

What to do when your child with Autism wanders

Elopement (also known as wandering, bolting, running), is a concern that is often well-known to families of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Elopement occurs when a child wanders away from their parent or caregiver. Some children elope in the community (e.g., wander away in the grocery store), while others may leave their homes unnoticed. A 2012 survey of parents indicated that half of children with ASD elope, and that this behaviour is stressful for families and dangerous for children (Anderson et al., 2012).


The dangers of elopement are compounded by the fact that children with ASD may not have the same awareness of danger as their typically developing peers. They may be more drawn to dangerous stimuli (e.g., water), may lack awareness of strangers and moving vehicles, and may not reliably respond to common instructions (e.g., “stop”, “come here”). In addition, many children with ASD are non-verbal, and may not be able to consistently identify who they are, or where they have come from, particularly in stressful situations.


When addressing elopement behavior, especially in young children, prevention is crucial, and should always be the first course of action. Below are some suggestions on preventing elopement, and ensuring your child is safe if they do wander away from you or your home.


1. Door Locks and Alarms-The first step in addressing elopement is to prevent the behaviour, especially if your child has not yet learned safety skills such as following instructions, responding to their name, answering personal information questions, and crossing the street safely. There are several door locks on the market that can stop your child from leaving home. Door Guardian locks are a cost-effective and easy-to-install solution for regular and patio doors, and can be purchased online (amazon.ca) and in stores for approximately $25 (e.g., Walmart, Rona, Lowes, Canadian Tire, and Home Depot). Door alarms can also be purchased to alert you if a door in your house is opened.


2. Medic Alert Bracelet and GPS Tracker- Did you know that all school-aged children are entitled to a free Medic Alert bracelet through the “No child without” program? This application can be completed online with a barcode/pin from your child’s school.

There are many different styles of medic alert bracelets available depending on your child’s sensory preferences, and they can be customized to include different types of information.

For children with more severe elopement behaviours, GPS tracking devices are also available for purchase. These devices are designed to monitor a child’s whereabouts, and alert your phone if your child leaves a designated area. One of the more popular GPS tracking device for children with ASD is Angelsense, which can be purchased directly from the company ($200+). Monthly subscription plans must also be purchased ($30-$60+ per month).


3. Register with your Local Police Department- If your child has a diagnosis of ASD, consider registering with your local police department. The London Police Department ASD registry allows caregivers to provide identifying information about their child (e.g., communication needs, best ways to approach, hazards the person may be attracted to). This database can be accessed by first responders, and is helpful for locating a child that has gone missing, interacting with the child when found, and identifying a child wandering who may have ASD.


4.Swimming lessons- Many children with ASD are drawn to water, and may wander toward places with lakes, rivers, streams, or swimming pools. For this reason, teaching water safety skills as early as possible is critical. In the London, Ontario region, 1:1 swimming lessons can be arranged through your local YMCA. The University of Western Ontario also runs a low-cost program that teaches children with disabilities to swim with 1:1 student volunteers. (Lessons are focused on teaching children to float and swim to the side of a body of water safely.


5. Talk to your Neighbors- If your child has a history of eloping from home, consider talking to your neighbours. People who live nearby may be able to keep a close eye out for your child, and learn the best way to respond if they see your child wandering.


6. Teach your child to answer Personal information questions- If your child is verbal, it may be helpful to teach them identify their name, address, and phone number. Children with communication devices can also be taught to identify personal information. Children who may have difficulty communicating with unfamiliar people can also be taught to write/type this information, or pass over an identification card. Remember, when you are teaching your child to answer personal information questions, it is important to ensure they will answer accurately with strangers, not just familiar adults. This can be practiced in the community with first responders, cashiers, waitresses, etc. Although this information is important to teach, it should not take the place of medic alert bracelets for children who wander without a communication device, or have difficulty answering questions consistently in unfamiliar situations.




Anderson, C., Keiley Law, J., Daniels, A., Rice, C., Mandell, D. S., Hagopian, L., Law, P. A. (2012). Occurrence and Family Impact of Elopment in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders [Accessed 4 July 2019]; Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4524545/

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