Tips You Need to Know to Protect a Wandering Autistic Child
In a recent study published online in the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers sought to quantify what until now has been anecdotal knowledge that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have a tendency to wander or bolt (also referred to as elopement) when a parent is not looking. Such incidences of leaving the safety of home have led to numerous injuries and fatalities among autistic children. In at least one separate study, the mortality rate determined among the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) population is twice as high as that of the general population.
To better understand the actual extent of the problem of wandering in autistic children, researchers from the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) surveyed the families of 1,218 children with autism spectrum disorder and 1,076 of their siblings as a control comparison with an online questionnaire. The study is part of a project in concert with the Kennedy Krieger Institute.
What the researchers found was that the risk of an autistic child wandering off unsupervised is much more than anecdotal. According to a press release issued by Kennedy Krieger Institute, the survey revealed the following significant findings:
• 49 percent of children with ASD attempted to elope at least once after age 4.
• Of those who attempted to elope, 53 percent of children with ASD went missing long enough to cause concern.
• From age 4 to 7, 46 percent of children with ASD eloped, which is four times the rate of unaffected siblings.
• From age 8 to 11, 27 percent of affected children eloped compared with 1 percent of unaffected siblings.
• When eloping, 74 percent of affected children eloped from their own home or someone else's home. Children also eloped from stores (40 percent) and classroom or schools (29 percent).
• Close calls with traffic injury were reported for 65 percent of the missing children.
• Close calls with drowning were reported for 24 percent of the missing children.
• Elopement attempts peaked at age 5.4 years. Of parents reporting on the "worst year ever," 29 percent said that their child attempted to elope multiple times a day; an additional 35 percent reported that attempts occurred at least once per week.
• While eloping, children with Asperger disorder were more frequently described by their parents as anxious; children with ASD were more frequently described as happy, playful or exhilarated. In either case, elopement was goal oriented, with the intent to go somewhere or do something.
Characteristics of Eloping
• Children who have eloped are older, more likely to have an ASD, present more severe autism symptoms and have lower intellectual and communication scores than non-elopers.
• Children who were reported as missing were older, more likely to have experienced skill loss and less likely to respond to their name. They were also more likely to have lower intellectual and communication scores than non-missing children.
• On average, children were missing for 41.5 minutes.
Impact of Elopement on Family
• 56 percent of parents reported elopement as one of the most stressful behaviors they had to cope with as caregivers of a child with ASD.
• 50 percent of parents reported receiving no guidance from anyone on preventing or addressing their child's elopement behavior.
• After children went missing, parents most frequently contacted neighbors (57 percent). Parents also called police (35 percent), school (30 percent) and store personnel (26 percent)