Elopement is a common challenge many people affected by autism must face. Elopement can often lead to dangerous and even catastrophic events that can be fatal. The thought of one day hearing your child with autism has wandered off from school or during a field day leaves many parents troubled by the possibilities. Fortunately, for those with autism and their incredibly caring families, Applied Behavior Analysis, otherwise known as ABA therapy, can address and sometimes eliminate factors that can lead to an elopement.
Evidence shows that ABA therapy for elopement leads to lower incidents of elopement behavior. Additionally, it increases a sense of security in children with autism that may feel threatened by their environment and sensory experiences. ABA therapy for elopement teaches families to be proactive in preventing the behavior and identifying warning signs that their child is considering escape.
If you are concerned about your loved one’s safety or the possibility that they might elope, this blog will help you explore ABA therapy as a treatment option. An established ABA agency will provide you with a comprehensive approach to address your child’s unique needs, including elopement. Addressing elopement behaviors with ABA therapy can give your family the peace they deserve, knowing their neuro-determined loved one is learning safer practices that can save their life.
What is Elopement?
Elopement is a dangerous behavior some individuals with autism spectrum disorder exhibit. It involves leaving the safety of a familiar location or person without consent or proper consideration for risks. It is often associated with individuals who are non-verbal or lack adequate language skills to communicate needs like distress.
Elopement behaviors can communicate an individual’s need to escape a social situation, access a highly preferred object or activity, or avoid an unwanted demand. Unfortunately, the behavior of elopement can lead to many long-term consequences. These severe outcomes can be physical injury, lost time, safety concerns, and even death. These consequences can affect the missing individual and the people searching for them. To make matters more severe, children on the spectrum who elope are often attracted to bodies of water, making the behavior even more deadly.
What is ABA Therapy?
ABA therapy is an evidence-based approach to analyzing and modifying behavior. It is often employed with children and adults on the autism spectrum or experiencing other delays. ABA therapy can benefit individuals who exhibit elopement behaviors because it identifies the underlying causes of escape and teaches preventative strategies.
How Does ABA Therapy Address Elopement Behaviors?
ABA therapy for elopement promotes the development of self-control and problem-solving skills. These understandings increase an individual’s awareness of safety and improve their response to a crisis. In addition, ABA therapy uses the principles of positive reinforcement to curb the impulses for elopement. Positive reinforcement is the scientific concept that an individual is likelier to repeat a behavior if a positive consequence, i.e., reinforcer or reward, follows.
Reinforcers or “rewards” often implemented in ABA therapy include social praise or the delivery of a highly preferred snack, toy, or activity. The certified provider practicing ABA therapy for elopement might reinforce the client for specific durations in which they remain within the group or near their provider during an outing. The aim of positive reinforcement is the association of practicing safe behaviors with positive consequences and experiences.
What Techniques Does ABA Therapy Utilize for Elopement?
ABA therapy for elopement utilizes different approaches to reduce the likelihood of escaping behavior. In most cases, ABA providers will begin addressing the conduct by teaching clients and their loved ones how to identify triggers that may lead the individual with autism to consider eloping.
For example, your loved one may become agitated when there is too much noise or stimulation in their environment. These sensory sensitivities can lead them to wander from their setting instinctually. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will help you and your child cope with difficult experiences like overstimulation during ABA therapy for elopement. Addressing these sensory challenges may prevent factors that may result in elopement.
Another approach ABA therapy employs for elopement is teaching neuro-determined individuals how to be more conscious of their surroundings. ABA teaches clients to identify signs in their environment that alert them to danger. Additionally, ABA safety protocols include asking for help or what to do if lost in a public location. This critical knowledge can save an individual’s life.
Finally, ABA therapy for elopement teaches the person appropriate ways to express their emotions and experience. Through communication, ABA therapy for elopement empowers the individual to engage in problem-solving and anger management skills. These new active strengths may decrease agitation or escalation that can result in elopement.
What Impact Do Elopement Behaviors Have on Families?
Elopement can cause parents to live in constant fear and exhaustion, feeling they must constantly be alert. It is crucial for families struggling with their child’s elopement behavior to ensure they are working with a trained professional like a BCBA. A BCBA specializes in strategies for reducing elopement. As a parent, knowing you are acting toward a solution can increase your sense of control and promote a sense of well-being that will also benefit your child.
What are Tips for Caregivers Managing Elopement Behaviors?
1. Create a safety plan.
As a parent, it’s critical to have an up-to-date safety plan that is easy for everyone in the house to access. The plan should clearly outline the steps necessary if your child elopes.
2. Implement structure.
Establishing consistent routines and predictability can help set expectations for the day’s activities which may reduce stress levels.
3. Talk it out.
Discuss elopement’s complex emotions and consequences with your child, their educators, and providers. These specialists often understand elopement behavior and can provide context that may assist you in keeping your child safe.
4. Monitor transitions.
Elopement commonly occurs during transitions from one activity to another or when moving between locations. Identify potential problem areas related to daily shifts so you manage them more effectively ahead of time.
5. Utilize visual cues.
Visual cues or support such as pictures, symbols, or photos of people/locations can help children understand what they should do (or not do) when transitioning from one activity to another. Supporting transitions with visual aids can help reduce the risk of unexpected elopements.
6. Let technology help.
Wearable tracking devices and apps can help provide extra safety layers when caregivers cannot always have eyes on their children.
7. Seek professional advice.
It is always a fantastic idea to seek help from professionals specializing in elopement behaviors. With the proper support and guidance, you and your family can work together to reduce elopement behaviors and create a safe environment.
ABA Therapy for Elopement and ABA Centers of America
Ultimately, elopement does not have to be an impossible challenge. With the right approach, families can better understand the underlying causes of escaping and develop targeted strategies to reduce these disruptive tendencies.
ABA Centers of America utilizes powerful behavioral techniques proven effective in reducing crises. Using evidence-based behavior science, ABA providers can teach families and individuals on the spectrum the skills required to identify and manage triggers that may result in elopement.
ABA Centers of America aim to address elopement behaviors in all individuals who may be struggling. The behavior is so critical that we target elopement in 39% of our client’s behavior plans. Additionally, 80% of clients experience improvement in elopement behaviors within their first six months of receiving therapy.
If you are concerned about your child’s safety, consider seeking ABA therapy with ABA Centers of America to reduce elopement risk. For more information about us and our incredible, life-changing ABA services, reach us at (844) 923-4222 to schedule a free consultation or visit abacenters.com.
We can create a safe and inclusive world for everyone together!