There is a "wandering" code under consideration to be in the new International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9-CM). "Wandering" would be a diagnosis that could be given to people with developmental disabilities. The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network has a petition against the wandering code because it's likely to lead to the abuse of people with DDs. It's really important to sign the petition because there is an opposing petition that also has a lot of signatures, so if you would like to sign the petition it is here:
Anti-Wandering Code Petition
I don't always like to sign petitions if I don't know much about the issue, so I'll try to explain why I am against the wandering code if you are not sure.
I know that there are people with DDs, especially kids with autism, who do dangerous things like running into the street; and presumably this is what the diagnosis is intended to address. However, some problems with making it a medical diagnosis are:
1. It pathologizes actions that can often be better looked at as expressions of what someone wants or needs. If someone "wanders" dangerously, it is better for their family and staff to figure out why the person is doing that and try to a)address emotional and communication issues that may be leading to the behavior, and b)teach the person how to be safe, rather than treating them as "a wanderer." It's already way too common to write off DD people's actions as "just part of their disability" instead of seeing that they may be trying to express something.
2. The diagnosis is very vague, and it can and certainly will be applied to people whose behavior does not fit the most extreme examples. In support of the wandering code, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quotes a survey saying that 92% of kids with autism wander from safe places, according to their parents. I can't imagine what incredibly stretchy and general definition of wandering could possibly allow this to be true--I've known a lot of kids with severe autism (which I assume is what they're referring to), and while I know some who are very impulsive and not aware of where they are going, I don't think that this is a dangerous medical problem for most of them. I also know a lot of kids with severe autism who could not be considered to "wander" any more than non-disabled kids.
3. When someone gets a diagnosis that labels one of their actions as being dangerous and a medical problem, that makes it easier for people to control them in ways that are not ethical; for example, writing restraints into a child's IEP so they can be legally used in school, or making someone live in an institution. This is especially the case when the action that is being labeled dangerous is something that a)is very vaguely defined, and b)is something that a person may do when they are in an abusive situation. It's really scary to think that a person may be, for example, leaving their group home without permission because they are afraid, or running into a dangerous area because they feel depressed and hopeless; and because they have a wandering diagnosis, these actions will be seen not as actions, but as part of their disability and something to be corrected by keeping them under tighter control.
Wandering is not a diagnosis yet, and hopefully won't ever be, but I have seen something similar happen with diagnoses of "behavioral problems," "emotional disturbance," or "emotional behavioral disorder" (a lot of different terms are used but they mean basically the same thing). Yes, some people with and without DDs have serious behavioral problems. But as a staff person, I've met a lot of people with these diagnoses who were not any more violent or aggressive than anyone else. However, something many of them had in common was being agreeable and compliant to the point of having trouble expressing how they felt or what they actually wanted. I can't help but feel that this is a natural result of the way someone is treated when they have a label that encourages staff to see everything the person does as a symptom of a disease.
If you didn't sign the petition before, but would like to now, here it is again:
Anti-Wandering Code Petition
You can also email Donna Pickett who is the CDC's co-chair of the Coordination and Maintenance Committee for the new International Classification of Diseases. Her email is email@example.com and she is collecting public comment about the ICD-9-CM.
The ASAN Action Alert about the wandering code has more information about it.