Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mini-Series: Strategies to PREVENT Elopement #2

No....this mini series isn't about getting the special ed world, we know that elopement is just a fancy word for running away.  This is one of the most challenging behaviors to deal with in a school setting as it is disruptive and can be very dangerous.  As a consultant in a school district, this is one of the most common issues I get called in to help with.  As some of you may already know from reading my blog, I do not like to be put in a position where I have to be re-active on the fly to challenging behavior.  I would rather PREVENT the behavior from occurring in the first place...and then if the behavior still occurs (which it most likely will), I want a specific plan laid out so everyone in my classroom knows what to do.  This mini series of posts will cover identifying function/replacement behavior for elopement, simple to implement prevention strategies, and creating a safety plan.

As we discussed in my last post, identifying the function of the behavior and teaching a replacement behavior are key ways to reduce elopement, but today we will talk about some simple strategies you can implement to prevent the behavior from occurring in the first place.

1)  Arranging the environment.  The student who elopes should be seated away from the door. Use furniture to make the door slightly harder to get to (not saying you should block the door with furniture, but if you use furniture to define the different spaces in your room, you most likely will avoid having a straight shot pathway to the door).  You may want to consider placing some window chimes on the door so you can hear when it opens as well...this may not prevent elopement, but will at least speed up your reaction time if it does occur. 

2)  Visuals.  As I mentioned in my last post, keeping visuals by the door or easily accessible around the room can help your student communicate their wants/needs.  This may help to increase functional communication and also decrease running.  Two visuals I always keep by my door are one for "water" and "bathroom."  I have had a few students who don't run often, but when they do, it is for one of these two reasons.  Having these visuals by the door is a prompt for them to grab one and bring it over to me or another adult before leaving the classroom.  If your student seems to be running out of the room to visit a certain person/classroom or to get access to something, put a picture of the person or object right by the door.  Then, when they pick this up and give it to you (you may need to teach them to do this), make sure to honor their request and at least go look for the person or object they are requesting.  It may also be helpful to have visuals on the door such as a stop sign or a visual reminder to ask a teacher before leaving the classroom.

3)  Increase engagement in the classroom.  You want your classroom to have it going on and be the place all your students WANT to be.  Find activities that are motivating and related to your students' interests.  If your student loves Pokemon or angry birds, make their handwriting worksheets with pictures of these characters and have them write words related to these topics.  Find ways to incorporate academics into hands-on activities or games (my kids always loved cooking!).  If the function of your student's elopement seems to be for escape, try reducing the amount of demands that are placed on him or her during the day or reducing the amount of work he/she has to complete (these can always be faded back in later...but for now, let's just see if it makes a difference in reducing this dangerous behavior).

4) Always reinforce the appropriate replacement behavior.  I know I mentioned this earlier, but it is that important.  We can't expect our students to change their patterns of behavior unless their requests are honored.  Remember, if it is easier to get what they want by running, they will continue to run.  We need to make the replacement behavior the easier option in order to get them to decrease running.

5) Schedules.  Have a visual schedule to increase the predictability of the day for your student.  If you think running needs to be a part of their day, schedule it into their day at regular times.

6) Schedule in attention.  If your student seems to be running to gain attention, try giving them attention regularly to prevent them from needing to run in order to get some face time with you.  You can download apps on your phone for interval training or use a Motivaider to provide you with reminders.  For instance, if you set your interval app to go off every 10 minutes, when you feel the vibration, you can simply walk over to the student, give them a little attention, and then go back about your business.  In ABA, we call this noncontingent attention which basically means the student doesn't have to do anything to get the are just giving out some freebies to try and prevent them from needing to engage in an inappropriate behavior in order to get it.

7) Communication within your building.  Talk to your administrator as well as staff that your student comes in contact with when running.  For example, make sure the cafeteria staff know not to give him snacks when he comes in without an adult (yes...this happened) or tell staff who encounter him in the hallway to call for back up, but avoid interacting or chasing the student (especially if you think the function of the behavior is for attention).  If the severity of the behavior warrants it, you may want to send an email to staff within the building letting them know what to do if they see the student without an adult present.

8) Staff coverage.  Any students who elope should be accounted for by a staff member at all times of the day.  Make sure that on your staff schedules they know not only what activities they are doing during the day, but also what students they are assigned to.

As much as I love my Fitbit steps, I would prefer NOT to get them from running after students.  Let me know if you have any other tips that worked for you in your classroom.  Email me with pictures and I would love to add them to this post!


  1. Love the motivaider!

  2. I write a safety plan for my student that outlines very specifically what should happen if the student elopes.For example, what you said plus who is to be informed , at what point we call 911, etc. I send it out all-staff.

    1. Yes! So important! Check back on Friday as my post will be all about safety plans...would love to see if you have anything to add!