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.
Photo by j.reed