our runaway girl

dietcoke7elevenI’ve been fielding a lot of questions on why Sofija runs away. I promise it’s not because she just wants to get away from our family. It is actually very common for children with autism to elope (the fancy word for running away).

With chain locks and alarms on our doors and windows, Sofija has still managed to get out four times in the last month. Two of those four times she was located by the police and twice we chased her down the street and caught her before she was out of sight. Each time she’s eloped has been after dark. She has no fear of the dark or strangers or being alone. In fact, every time we try to go somewhere as a family she begs to stay home alone and she honestly doesn’t understand why she can’t.  Although she can count money and make change, she still doesn’t grasp that money must be exchanged for goods. Four of her favorite “goods” are slurpees, donuts, nutella, and ice cream. My girl has great taste. 😉  7eleven just happens to have all of those things and since my dear hubby and I refuse to take her there on a daily basis, she obsesses over ways to get out of the house and go there by herself.

On top of her highly developed taste buds, my girl is also quite the opportunist. This morning my hubby let me sleep in. Our phone rang and the minute he answered it and turned his back on her she ran into our room, pulled the duvet off of me and told me to get up. She is constantly looking for opportunities to get what she wants and she’s all about some carpe diem when opportunities arise.

The National Autism Association has a great fact sheet on autism and wandering (elopement) and tons of resources for anyone wanting to learn more. You can click that link above if you’re interested. Here are the highlights:


  • Roughly half, or 48%, of children with an ASD attempt to elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times higher than their unaffected siblings
  • In 2009, 2010, and 2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91% total U.S. deaths reported in children with an ASD ages 14 and younger subsequent to wandering/elopement.
  • More than one third of ASD children who wander/elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number
  • Two in three parents of elopers reported their missing children had a “close call” with a traffic injury
  • 32% of parents reported a “close call” with a possible drowning
  • 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
  • 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

Source: Interactive Autism Network Research Report: Elopement and Wandering (2011)
Source: National Autism Association, Lethal Outcomes in ASD Wandering (2012)

We consider ourselves extremely blessed to live in a neighborhood where people pay attention and take action. Both times that Sofija got far enough away that the police had to find her, several neighbors called 911 with “Sofija sightings” and a group of walkers helped the police corral her.

1 in 68 children in the US has autism. If you’re reading this I can almost guarantee you that you live near a child with autism. PLEASE be a good neighbor! If you see a child walking the streets alone, call 911. Get to know your neighbors and know how to contact the parents of any neighbor children with special needs. When you’re out walking or standing at your kitchen window, look up from your phone and pay attention to who you see. TOO MANY children with autism drown each year without anyone noticing them walk by. Pay attention. You just may save a life.