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11-Year-Old with Asperger’s Wanders From Home, Breaks Window To Get Into Target

11-Year-Old with Asperger’s Wanders From Home, Breaks Window To Get Into Target

An 11-year-old New Jersey boy who has Asperger’s Syndrome left his house in the middle of the night, went to a Target store, broke a window and entered on the night of April 24th. According to the Star-Ledger, the boy — who frequently goes to the store to look at DVDs with his parents — did not take anything. The Gloucestor Township police department has a YouTube channel and it was through this that that boy’s mother “identified him as a suspect.”

Police said that the parents were “embarrassed” and have “cooperated completely” with them. Target says that it is not planning to press any charges.

As the Star-Ledger notes, “Police said it was the first time You Tube was used to assist in a case.” The YouTube video of the boy in the Target store attracted 1,683 views over two days. From a recent check of the Gloucester Township Police’s YouTube channel, the video has been taken down.

A recently released study from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Maryland says that, of the 800 participants in the study, half of the parents report that their autistic children wander away. Among these families, 50% said that the children wandered far enough that they had serious concerns about their children’s safety. 

While the study notes that the peak age for elopement is four, in our experience, wandering away has become a bigger problem now that my son is older. We are teaching him to carry ID (noting his name, our phone numbers, his diagnosis of autism — my son can say his name and phone number, but his speech is not always clear to strangers) but, as he is a teenager, he wants to be more independent; wants to do things, including go places, by himself. My son has a lot of needs and limitations (including his very minimal speech) that make such not possible without someone accompanying him. 

Here’s what the IAN Research Report: Elopement and Wandering found:

Dangers of Elopement

The tendency of individuals with ASD to wander or “bolt” puts them at risk of trauma, injury or even death:

  • More than one third of children who elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number verbally or by writing/typing
  • Two in three parents report their missing children had a “close call” with a traffic injury
  • 32% of parents report a “close call” with a possible drowning


Effect of Wandering on Families

  • Wandering was ranked among the most stressful ASD behaviors by 58% of parents of elopers
  • 62% of families of children who elope were prevented from attending/enjoying activities outside the home due to fear of wandering
  • 40% of parents had suffered sleep disruption due to fear of elopement
  • Children with ASD are eight times more likely to elope between the ages of 7 and 10 than their typically-developing siblings


Resources, Support for Families

  • Half of families with elopers report they had never received advice or guidance about elopement from a professional
  • Only 19% had received such support from a psychologist or mental health professional
  • Only 14% had received guidance from their pediatrician or another physician


Motivations for Elopement

Despite speculation that summer is the peak season for elopement, 67% of parents of elopers said they saw no seasonal pattern at all; only 25% felt summer was the peak season. The top 5 reasons parents believed their children eloped included:

  • Enjoys exploring (54%)
  • Heads for a favorite place (36%)
  • Escapes demands/anxieties (33%)
  • Pursues special topic (31%)
  • Escapes sensory discomfort (27%)

It’s important to remember that, when an autistic child is lost, he or she very likely does not think that he or she is lost — he or she knows quite well where he or she is. But of the course the child is lost — away from home and unaccompanied — and parents, educators, therapists, and police must take this reality into account.

There is nothing more frightening than not knowing where your child — a child with disabilities — is. I am just glad that the New Jersey boy is safe.


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Photo by j.reed

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9:07AM PST on Mar 10, 2012

My 16 year old has aspergers, and has been eloping since he could walk, nothing like trying to walk towards your son to grab him for safety and he runs faster and farther, although he constantly did this from school, therapy and home at young age, it seemed to mostly avoid sensory or an issue he was uncomfortable doing. He is now much older and although i had a small break from eloping between 12-15, he is now eloping again because he is sure he is capable of living on his own. NOTHING is more frightening than not knowing where your gifted aspie is for more than 24 hours. I wish more people knew about this system including police and I wish there were support groups for parents specifically dealing with elopement issues.
i love my son.

12:26AM PDT on May 9, 2011

I'm actually wondering if this "eloping" symptom is a disorder in and on it's self, or, if it's really associated with Asperger's Syndrome. I've known plenty of AS people, and this is the first time I've heard it associated, an could be a secondary condition, such as the fact that people affected with AS often also have OCD. While it may APPEAR that they go hand in hand, they're still two separate issues that don't need to go together.

10:08AM PDT on May 2, 2011

You might want to have a bracelet or tag made for the child when he is young with your details on it so that you can be contacted if this happen and also that the police or person who talk to the child is aware of the illness.

This was done by my friend for her son and has he grew he even manged to least gave his liking for the bracelet who was made and he wore it with no problem.

Of course the brighter the colour the better he liked it but this gave her some sort of peace of mind for when...he wander!

2:44PM PDT on May 1, 2011

my daughter wondered off to rescue princess zelda she was 14 at the at nearly 18 she has no appreciation of why she cant wonder where she to hand flap at boys or babies

8:31AM PDT on May 1, 2011

Having had some experience with people with Asperger's, one thing that was made plain to me is the fact that they often have no idea of the effect that things that they say can have on other people....If unknowing of the medical condition that exists, one's feelings can become hurt without that being the intention of the speaker.....a word to the wise is to be aware of this.

12:15AM PDT on May 1, 2011

My son who has autism left our home through a front window while there were 3 adults in the home! He was there one minute and gone the next. He was gone for 45 minutes...It was the most terrifying experience of my life (although he was fine when we found him). He went down the street to a stream...which was scary since it was rainy season...since he was non-verbal at the time, I wondered whether we could get some form of GPS device covered by insurance, but no dice. We almost never go anywhere since he still has a tendency to bolt. It's sad, but thats just the way it has to be!

11:56PM PDT on Apr 30, 2011

not everybody with aspergers is verbal. just as not all with cp have cognitive impairments. Just because we know somebody who has Aspergers does not make us experts.

11:24PM PDT on Apr 30, 2011

My brother is autistic and has aspergers, and he definitely has never done anything like this before.

9:53PM PDT on Apr 30, 2011


7:41PM PDT on Apr 30, 2011

I agree. I have a grandson with Aspberger's.

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