Wandering and Autism: The Dangers

We discussed what wandering is and the frequency with which it occurs in my previous blog.   Today let’s talk about whether age is a factor in frequency, why wandering occurs, and the dangers.

Do kids with autism grow out of it?

In the June 2012 study on Elopement wandering attempts peaked at age 5.4 years. The percentage of autistic children wandering, bolting, etc. decreased from 49% in the 4-7 year range to 27% in the 8-11 year range.  The percentage of wanderers appears to stabilize at 27% through adolescence. The difference among the age ranges seems to be related to places they are wandering away from. Children most often wander away from home. Adolescents tended to wander away from public places and school. However, there is not a lot of research about the wandering of adults with ASD, so it is difficult to know whether wandering decreases more into adulthood, remains the same, or peaks again.

Why does it happen?

There are many specific reasons individuals with ASD wander. However, the reasons can be distilled into two main goals – Getting to something or Getting away from something. Something might sparks the interest of the person with autism, causing them to wander. Unfortunately, that object of interest could be anything. For example: a railroad crossing, a stop sign, a pool, or the swings at the park. If escape is the motivation, the reason could be sensory overload or fear of a new environment. The feeling of being over stimulated or afraid could cause autistic adults and children to seek peace and the security of something known.

How dangerous is this behavior?

Wandering can be extremely dangerous. Due to the minimized sense of danger in some people with autism, wandering can result in drowning, hypothermia, traffic injuries, and falls. In the June 2012 Occurrence and Family Impact of Elopement in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders study by Interactive Autism Network (IAN) reported that 65% of the children gone long enough to be classified as missing (an average of 41.5 minutes) experienced close calls with traffic, and 24% experienced close calls with drowning. In fact, accidental drowning is a leading cause of death for people with ASD.

Next time we’ll discuss wandering prevention and what to do if someone wanders.

Rebecca J. Weaver is a Certified Autism Specialist at Independent with Autism, working to empower individuals with ASD. Need help creating your success strategies? Check out IndependentwithAutism.com for more information.

Sources: June 2012 Occurrence and Family Impact of Elopement in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders by: Connie Anderson, J. Kiely Law, Amy Daniels, Catherine Rice, David S. Mandell, Louis Hagopian, Paul A. Law  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/5/870.short?sso=1&sso_redirect_count=2&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3A%20No%20local%20token&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token

http://awaare.nationalautismassociation.org/

 Interactive Autism Network (IAN),  the Kennedy Krieger Institute,

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