'Wandering' and 'elopement' have been identified as common in autism, affecting half of all diagnosed children ages four to ten, yet families rarely receive advice from practitioners even after the fact. Family perspectives have been missing from the literature as well as from public health and policy debates on how and when to respond to this problem. The problem of 'wandering' and 'elopement' reveals a complex intersection of larger issues encountered by families of children with autism. To consider these issues, this article examines 'wandering' and 'elopement' from the perspectives of African American mothers of children with autism, an underrepresented group in autism research. We consider how the mothers experience these behaviors and the response to these behaviors by professionals, such as service coordinators and law enforcement personnel working within various jurisdictions that become involved with the problem. We analyze the mothers' narratives about 'wandering' and 'elopement' drawn from ethnographic interviews that were collected between October 1, 2009 and August 31, 2012. These interviews were part of a larger project on disparities in autism diagnosis and services that followed a cohort of 25 four to ten-year old children. Drawing on narrative, phenomenological and interpretive traditions, we trace the mothers' developing understandings of 'wandering' and 'elopement' over time, and show how these understandings become elaborated and transformed. This article provides a nuanced, moment-to-moment and longitudinal picture of the mothers' experiences of 'wandering' and 'elopement' that enriches the cross-sectional view of large-scale surveys about the problem and contributes unique insights at the family and community levels. Implications for professional awareness, clinical practice and service provision are also suggested.
Keywords: African American; Autism; Elopement; Family perspectives; Mothers; Narrative; USA; Wandering.
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