AUTISM & WANDERING
wandering behaviors in the Alzheimer’s community,
wandering and elopement behaviors in children and
adults with autism have led to countless tragedies
across the country.
In 2011, a study
conducted by the Interactive Autism Network through
the Kennedy Krieger Institute found that roughly
half, or 49%, of children with autism attempt to
elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four
times higher than their unaffected siblings.
It also found that
more than one third of children with autism who
wander/elope are never or rarely able to communicate
their name, address, or phone number. Two in three
parents of elopers reported their missing children
had a “close call” with a traffic injury. Thirty-two
percent of parents reported a “close call” with a
possible drowning. Wandering was also ranked among
the most stressful autism behaviors by 58% of
parents of elopers. Half of families with elopers
report they had never received advice or guidance
about elopement from a professional.
According to the
National Autism Association, in 2009, 2010, and
2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91% total
U.S. deaths reported in children with autism ages 14
and younger subsequent to wandering/elopement.
Sixty-eight percent of these deaths happened in a
nearby pond, lake, creek or river.
There are various
reasons someone with autism may wander. More often
than not, he/she will wander to something of
interest, especially water, or away from something
that is bothersome, such as uncomfortable noise or
present a unique challenge since it is often assumed
there are more eyes on the child or adult with
autism. However, heavy distractions coupled with an
over-stimulating setting can lead to a child or
adult wandering off without notice.
Children and adults
with autism wander from all types of settings, such
as educational, therapeutic, residential, camp
programs, outdoor, public places, and home settings,
including relatives and babysitters’ homes.
elopement tend to increase in warmer months,
especially in mid-section areas of the US where home
layouts and routines are adapted to accommodate
changing weather. Persons with autism are also more
likely to play outside or attend summer or day camps
during this time.
It's no wonder that more than half of parents reported that wandering is
the most (or among the most) stressful ASD behavior, ahead of
self-injury, rigidity, aggression, and meltdowns. Meanwhile, 62 percent
said fear of their child eloping stopped them from attending or enjoying
activities outside the home, increasing their social isolation; not
surprisingly, 40 percent of these already exhausted parents said they
lost sleep while worrying about a potential "escape" during the night.
why do ASD children wander? While researchers still aren't sure,
parents ranked these as their child's top five possible motivations:
1. He/she simply enjoys running and exploring (54 percent)
2. He/she is heading to a favorite place he enjoys such as a park (36 percent)
3. He/she is trying to escape an anxious situation like demands at school (33 percent)
He/she is pursuing a special topic of interest, i.e. when a child
fascinated by trains heads for the train tracks (31 percent)
5. He/she is trying to escape uncomfortable sensory stimuli such as loud noise (27 percent)