Article by Abby Twyman, M.Ed., BCBA
As with any problem behavior, it is essential to first determine the function of the behavior. This is the WHY. There are two common reasons an individual with autism may elope (defined as the act of leaving an area without permission or notification which usually leads to placing that individual in a potentially dangerous situation): (1) to GET something or somewhere preferred, or (2) to ESCAPE something or somewhere non-preferred. Once you’ve determine why the individual is eloping, there are a few strategies which may be helpful.
Eloping to GET something or somewhere preferred
If an individual is eloping to get something or somewhere preferred it may be that the individual does not have the social communication skills necessary to get permission or notify someone. If this is the case, the person should be taught how to communicate their needs rather than simply leaving. It also may be the case that the person doesn’t know when the next time is they will get access to the item or activity causing them to impulsively leave the area. A solution for this may be to teach the individual to use a schedule and place the desired item/activity or location on the schedule.
Eloping to ESCAPE something or somewhere non-preferred
If an individual is eloping to escape something or somewhere non-preferred, it is likely the individual does not have the social communication skills necessary to voice their needs. They need to be taught to use pro-social behaviors to get their needs met. For instance, if an individual is working and the work becomes too difficult they may elope to get out of that demand. A few strategies may be to modify the workload to make it more manageable and teach the person to self-advocate and tell someone the work is too difficult or that they need a break from the activity. Another reason to leave a location may be because there is something aversive about the environment. Maybe it’s too loud, too hot, too crowded or too boring. In this case the person needs to be taught to self-advocate, communicate their needs effectively and/or engage in some problem solving to replace the elopement behavior.
Additional resources and articles related to elopement
Assessment and treatment of elopement maintained by access to stereotypy