Children on autism spectrum more likely to wander

New study suggests that more than one-quarter million school-age children with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disorders wander away from adult supervision each year.


Researchers from Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York found more than one-quarter million school-age children with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disorders wander away from adult supervision each year.

Researchers found that children with ASD (with or without associated cognitive delays) were more likely to wander off than children with cognitive impairment but no ASD. More than 26% of children with special needs in the study had wandered away from a safe environment within the past 12 months, say the researchers, with public places being the most common location for it to occur. Children between the ages of 6 to 11 were more likely to wander than those ages 12 to 17.

Across all groups, wanderers were more likely to not realize when they are in danger, to have difficulty distinguishing between strangers and familiar people, to show sudden mood changes, to over-react to situations and people, to get angry quickly, and to panic in new situations or if change occurs.

“The kids who are most likely to wander are the kids who are least likely to respond appropriately to police or rescue personnel — potentially further jeopardizing their safety;” added Dr. Adesman. “First responders need to recognize that children or young adults with an autism spectrum disorder may over-react to some well-intentioned interventions and may be unresponsive to simple commands or questions”

"Not only does it pose a significant risk to the safety and well-being of children with developmental disabilities, but fear of wandering can be a daily source of stress and anxiety for parents of affected children." In terms of prevention strategies, the researchers also found that caregivers of children with ASD and ID/DD were more likely than those in the other two groups to use fences, locks, alarms, electronic tracking devices or other measures to prevent wandering.

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