Wandering May Be Treatable, Study Finds
by Shaun Heasley | April 20, 2017
Many kids with developmental disabilities have a tendency to wander away from safe places — with potentially tragic consequences — but a new study suggests that it’s possible to mitigate such behavior.
By utilizing various behavioral interventions, researchers say elopement can be dramatically reduced and possibly eliminated.
The findings come from a small study published in the journal Autism this month which looked at records for 11 kids ages 5 to 12 who attended an intensive day treatment clinic for those with severe behavior issues and had a history of bolting from supervision. The children had diagnoses of autism, Down syndrome, intellectual disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Clinicians designed a treatment program for each child based on a functional analysis of their needs, the type of situations in which they were known to wander and feedback from parents and caregivers.
A combination of tactics was used with each child to eliminate bolting triggers and reinforce appropriate behaviors. As effective approaches were refined, therapists taught the children’s caregivers to implement the strategies at home, school and in the community.
Across all of the children studied, elopement behaviors decreased by an average of 86 percent, the study found.
The researchers acknowledged that the kids they looked at received a functional analysis at the outset and were participating in a day treatment program so it’s difficult to say if interventions would be as successful in a less intensive environment. Nonetheless, they said the outcome is promising.
Despite a 2012 study showing that about half of kids with autism wander, not much is known about the potential for treatment.
“This study represents an incremental but important step toward necessary future research on the treatment of elopement in this population by demonstrating that behavioral interventions for elopement are able to have very large treatment effects and that such large effect sizes may be typical,” wrote researchers from Emory University and the University of Georgia in their findings.
“Given the potential life-threatening consequences of elopement for a child and the tremendous impact of elopement on family functioning, these outcomes provide compelling evidence for an effective means of treatment,” they concluded.