A birthday party. The park. The therapy clinic parking lot.
These are just a few of the places that my son has eloped—running or wandering away from caregivers—from.
Maybe you can relate to the moments of absolute terror when your child bolts and your breath leaves you right along with them.
Eloping is one of the scariest parts of raising an Autistic child because it can have devastating consequences, so today I want to share 3 simple steps to manage eloping with the Embracing Autism Method.
3 Simple Steps to Manage Eloping
If we haven’t met yet, hey friend, I’m Kaylene!
I’m an Autistic adult and parent-coach that helps parents of autistic children drop the “autism mom” label and become the parent-advocate that their kids truly need.
So if you’re looking to be able to truly accommodate your child, balance your family life, and create real change through advocacy, feel free to hop over to AutisticMama.com/Apply and fill out the form to access an advanced private training!
What is Eloping
In the simplest terms, eloping is when an Autistic child runs or wanders away from their caregiver (or a safe, supervised environment) to a place that isn’t safe or supervised.
Eloping is incredibly common and also super dangerous.
Here are some pretty terrifying statistics:
- 49% of Autistic kids elope
- 1 in 4 are missing long enough to cause concern
- Nearly a third of reported elopement cases were either fatal or required some level of medical attention
- More than 1/3 of children who elope are not able to communicate their name, address or phone number
So we definitely need to be prepared to handle elopement as parent-advocates, but first I want to talk a little bit about why Autistic children elope in the first place.
Why do Autistic Children Elope
Autistic kids can elope for tons of different reasons, and it can be tricky to narrow down exactly why your child is eloping, but this process is critical.
It can be tempting to make broad assumptions here, but it’s imperative that you avoid jumping to conclusions!
This is what you will hear most “experts”—read: ABA therapists—say causes Autistic kids to elope:
- Getting away from something they don’t want.
- Going toward something they do want.
And while those can be broad reasons that Autistic children elope, there can definitely be other factors and nuance that these reasons completely miss or ignore.
- Craving and enjoying the sensory experience of running
- Getting distracted and not realizing they’re no longer with their caregiver
- Struggling with impulse control
- Perceiving running as safer than staying in the current environment
- Thinking that running is a game and not understanding the dangers
And that is just the tip of the iceberg…
So now that we’ve looked at why Autistic kids might elope, let’s look at how to manage eloping with the Embracing Autism Method.
How to Manage Eloping with the Embracing Autism Method
The Embracing Autism Method is a framework that I’ve developed after working with tons of parents of Autistic children and noticing patterns along their journeys.
The Embracing Autism Method has three simple steps:
Step One: Accommodate
The Accommodate stage in the Embracing Autism Method is all about finding and providing the specific accommodations your Autistic child needs so that they feel (and are) safe and regulated.
So when you’re dealing with eloping, you want to start by avoiding situations that you know your child is likely to elope from.
This is important firstly because it keeps your child safe, but also because it preserves capacity.
Here’s what I mean:
If you know that your child elopes every single time they’re at a park or the grocery store, and you temporarily stop going to parks and the grocery store…
…You’ll have more energy and capacity to manage when they elope from home, school, or other places you can’t easily avoid.
Another way to accommodate eloping is to create safe ways to run, escape, and “flight”, which allows your child to meet their need to elope while still staying safe.
This could look like:
- Creating a safe space in the classroom or home to run to
- Going to a park with a fence where they can run
- Making regular time to run and play chase
Step Two: Balance
The Balance stage in the Embracing Autism Method is all about balancing accommodations with “real life” through routines, boundaries, and skill-building.
So when you’re dealing with eloping, you want to focus first on developing boundary awareness.
This is going to help your child understand where it is okay to run and where it isn’t, which is going to massively help when creating safety plans.
Some of my favorite ways to work on boundary awareness is to play red light green light, miming games, and using random objects as the “boundary” while we race.
You’ll also want to practice replacement “flight” behaviors if your child elopes as a “flight” response to being triggered by their environment.
This allows them to still respond to their trigger in a way that their brain naturally needs them to, but in a way that keeps them safe.
Here are a few replacement “flight” behaviors my clients have had success with:
- Running in place
- Running from one adult to another
- Ski jumps
- Running or walking laps
- Running to a pre-determined safe place
Finally, you’ll want to use your child’s new boundary awareness and replacement flight behaviors to create a safety plan.
Step Three: Change
The Change stage in the Embracing Autism Method is all about effectively advocating for your Autistic child and empowering them to advocate for themselves so that their needs are met even when you aren’t there.
So when you’re dealing with eloping, you want to focus first on advocating for effective safety plans with any other caregivers.
This ensures that your child’s safety is a top priority.
A safety plan at school might include things like:
- A dedicated safe place in the classroom your child can run to
- A personalized “escape plan” for when your child needs to “flee”
- A 1:1 aide whenever your child is outside the primary classroom
- Extra support during transitions between activities or locations
You’ll also want to be sure to advocate to remove the source of stress that’s causing eloping in the first place.
Because—and this may be obvious—if your child is regularly eloping because of the same trigger, you should be addressing that trigger instead of just the eloping.
The behavior isn’t the problem, the trigger is. :)
Now you might be left thinking: okay, this sounds great, but I still have questions like…
- How can I find out why my child is eloping when they’re non-speaking or they just plain won’t communicate with me?
- What can I do to keep my child safe when it’s just me and I have other kids as well, so I can’t always chase them around?
- Last time my child eloped at school he ended up at a park two blocks away… How can I make a plan to address this!?
- My own anxiety about my child’s eloping is getting worse and worse… I’m barely sleeping. What should I be doing about that?
- How can I get my neighbors to understand that eloping is not happening because I’m neglectful and just not watching my child? I’m afraid they’re going to call CPS!
I teach all about how to discover your child’s unique needs, meet them without burning yourself out, and advocate for them effectively in my Embracing Autism Accelerator Program.
Plus, when you apply for the Accelerator, you get access to an exclusive private training: 3 Steps to Become the Parent-Advocate Your Child Needs.
Click here to apply and get your invite to the private training!
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