It is one of a parent’s worst nightmares. Having a child wander off can prove to be a very stressful situation for the parent and a very dangerous situation for the child. For parents of children with autism, this is all too often a reality. Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD published a study in the journal of Pediatrics, where they found the nearly half of children with autism wander off or ‘bolt’. Even more frightening, is that half of these children go missing.
The researchers are part of a program called the Interactive Autism Network (IAN). This study is the largest sample ever taken in the U.S. with 1,200 children with ASD in the sample. According to their press release, Dr. Paul Law, senior author and director of the IAN Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute said, “Since the launch of IAN, we have heard from families of children with autism that their children often place themselves in danger by wandering or eloping…These are the first published findings in the U.S. that provide an estimate of the number of children with ASD who not only wander or elope, but go missing long enough to cause real concern.”
The study accounted for 1,218 children with ASD and 1,076 of their siblings without ASD. The statistics for some age brackets were pretty staggering. For instance, 49% of children with ASD attempted at least once to wonder off after the age of 4. From ages 4 to 7, 46% of children with ASD attempted to wonder off, which was four times the amount compared to their unaffected siblings. From ages 8 to 11 that number dropped down to 27% which was a 1% higher rate than their unaffected siblings. 76% of these elopements occurred in the child’s own home or someone else’s home.
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.
50% of these families reported receiving no assistance or guidance in addressing these elopement behaviors. Dr. Law said, “Parents often fear being viewed as neglectful when their children leave from safe places. This study demonstrates that we urgently need interventions to address elopement and provide support to affected families.”
For more information, visit the Interactive Autism Network website at http://www.ianproject.org/.