Individuals with autism spectrum disorders may be prone to wandering or elopement, which can raise a significant health and safety risk. It is important for family members and caregivers to be aware of the risks and prevention strategies.
Wandering may include moving about with no apparent fixed plan in mind, or moving toward a location such as a landmark or place of obsession. Individuals with autism may also respond to loud noises or excitement by wandering or quickly fleeing. Elopement refers to a situation where a person with autism leaves a safe setting unnoticed or unsupervised. One of the leading causes of death among people with autism is drowning, exposure and other wandering-related factors.
Wandering has a medical diagnosis code approved by the Centers for Disease Control. Caregivers for people at risk of wandering should discuss the diagnosis code with the treating physician. A medical diagnosis can be helpful in obtaining insurance coverage for safety equipment and support requests for safety equipment in a school environment.
Caregivers should also be aware of strategies to prevent and deal with wandering. The first step is to understand wandering patterns and triggers in order to be aware of the problem. The individual’s home should be as secure as possible and the individual should be made aware of the importance of safety. Caregivers should consider identification materials such as a medical ID bracelet and location devices such as a personal GPS locator. Swimming lessons should also be considered. Finally, caregivers should make sure that neighbors and first responders are aware that an individual with autism lives nearby, which may improve response if an incident occurs.