I'm A Vibes Kid: Running Away....Feb 28, 2023
I’m A Vibes Kid: Running Away…
Elopement or running away happens very often for some but not all Autistic children. This moment can be scary for children and caregivers, as often children are running to avoid feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable in the moment. You will often read about elopement when it comes to water and children wanting to be in the water. While this is true, water is not the only reason autistic children elope or escape. Autistic children are known to escape from classrooms, from conversations and from their own thoughts.
Managing the Moment
Many children in school and at home find eloping to be helpful to manage the strong “vibes” or feelings that they have in the moment.
Vibes-a person’s emotional state or the atmosphere of a place as communicated to and felt by others (Oxford Dictionary)
Abigail was a runner. Her teachers in kindergarten could not keep her in the room. She would walk in off the bus with a friend and the minute the class would start circle time Abigail would be out the door. The school staff tried everything to keep her in the room. They gave her a calming tent, a fidget, a friend to sit next to at circle time, every idea they could think of… but she would still run. Finally, one day her school counselor decided to ask her about the running using a problem-solving approach.
Abigail explained that the room was cold. She would be fine until she took off her coat and then she felt cold. The counselor and Abigail worked on a solution to have her keep her coat on and she was able to stay in the room for the remainder of the day.
It’s how I feel
In my work, I have found many Abigails. Often, we as the adults have tried solutions and ideas without actually talking to our child to figure out the issue. The idea that “I feel off” comes up quite a bit when I talk with students about their need to run or elope from a room. They can sometimes explain like Abigail with a sensory concern but other times it is not so concrete as the temperature in a room.
Students have shared things like, I do not like how the teacher looks at me or how the other students look at me, so I run. I do not like how loud it gets or how quiet it gets, so I run. I have a hard time looking at the work or focusing on what the teacher is saying, so I run. Running can be for a lot of different reasons and only our students can help us to understand their reason for running.
Children will often begin to run when they first enter school settings. Preschools deal with this challenge often and unfortunately children who have not yet been diagnosed with autism, often get a diagnosis of separation anxiety or worst they get expelled from preschool. While anxiety is underlying for many children, there is a big difference in how we solve a separation anxiety moment and how we solve an autistic student who needs to escape the room. Many times we can use supports like pictures of families, transitional object like a stuffed animal and other helpful interventions to help with separation anxiety. Again, with our autistic student, we have to find out from them what is making it hard to stay in the classroom.
Preschool and Kindergarten teachers can begin to have problem solving conversations with students to help understand the moments that are difficult about staying in the classroom and begin to find solutions that will actually work in the classroom.
As we age
Students as they get older find different ways to manage their uncomfortable feelings of needing to leave a room. Students will ask to go to the bathroom during a test, they will leave the classroom for an errand or they will avoid going places like school or activities due to the overwhelming feeling. Students will often complain of headaches or stomachs in the morning before school and will try to convince their parents that they are “too sick” to go to school. All to avoid the feeling they get when in that uncomfortable environment.
When I work with students, they will tell me that they do not like the feeling they get with the peers in their class or how they feel about their teacher. Teacher relationships is huge. If they feel a good vibe- the teacher likes me or the teacher is nice than we could have a good school year. But if the vibe is not good- the teacher doesn’t like me or the teacher is mean- we could have avoidance of the class, refusal to complete the work, and an escape from anything that has to do with that teacher.
This will also happen in conversations. When your child is not feeling comfortable about a conversation they will “escape” by changing the subject to something they want to talk about. You can find yourself first talking about them hitting their brother and the next thing you know we are back to Pokemon characters or their favorite show. This is another form of “escape”.
In a class while the teacher is talking, a student will start to day dream and completely lose focus on what the teacher is talking about- especially in subjects that are boring or that they are not interested in. This can often be identified as having Adhd versus a student who is autistic and escaping the learning that is going on. Many neurodivergent students have more than one diagnosis and it will show up in the learning environment.
You are probably thinking by now, so how do we help our students who want to escape? Remember Abigail, we have to help them figure out where the feelings are coming from, and help them to create solutions to help them to feel comfortable in the environment. I am a huge fan of problem solving to find solutions with your child.
In my book, I’m A Vibes Kid, I begin to explore many moments throughout a child’s day that need solving and we show some solutions- not all solutions- that can work for a child who is feeling uncomfortable in situations. It is important as caregivers, that we take the time to understand the moment, not throw empty solutions at the moment hoping they will work.
Sure we can continue to create calming tents and have students wear headphones, but if we do not figure out the root cause of their running….we will still have a runner, just with headphones…
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