Study: Parents Get Little Help for Autistic Kids Who Wander

Technology can assist with elopement and give peace of mind to parents.
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Parents of autistic children say that one of the most stressful behaviors they have to contend with is their child wandering off alone — so much so that it prevents families from engaging in activities outside the home — and half of parents with concerns about their child’s straying say they haven’t received any guidance or advice on preventing the behavior.

In the first study to gauge how commonly kids with autism spectrum disorders wander, or “elope,” researchers found that half of 1,367 surveyed families with autistic children aged 4 to 17 said their child had wandered away at least once after age 4. Among those families, more than half said their child had disappeared long enough to cause concern.

(MORE: Autism: Why Some Children ‘Bloom’ and Overcome their Disabilities)

Forty-three percent of parents whose children had gone missing said their child’s wandering prevented family members from getting a good night’s sleep, and 62% reported that the autistic child’s tendency to elope prevented their family from attending or enjoying activities outside the home.

Autistic children who wandered off were also likely to experience “close calls” — 65% of wandering children were at risk for traffic accidents and 24% were at risk for drowning — and police were called in a third of cases.

“There are an alarming rate of elopements and it is an incredibly common behavior that children with autism engage in,” says lead study author Dr. Paul Law, senior author and director of the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. “They frequently go missing, and often have dangerous encounters.”

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