It’s a quiet day and everything seems to be falling right in line with today’s daily schedule. “Bob” an adult with ASD is sitting quietly reading a book and you go to the fridge to get some water. When you come back to the room, there is an empty chair and an open door. Your heart practically stops for a moment and you run to the door.
The discovery that your loved one with autism has wandered off is one of the most heart-wrenching moments a person can have. How often does wandering occur? Why does it happen? How dangerous is this behavior? Do kids with autism grow out of it? How can we prevent wandering? What do we do if someone with autism wanders off? We’ll address these questions one at a time. First, let’s define wandering.
Wandering, for people with ASD, is leaving a safe area and/or the care of trusted individuals. Wandering can happen at home, school, or in the community and with a variety of adults and/or peers supervising. Because of challenges regarding social communication and awareness of danger wandering can be a dangerous behavior.
How often does wandering occur?
In June of 2012 researchers from the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) asked this question. Their study included 1,218 children with ASD as well as 1,076 of their siblings without ASD from the ages of 4 to 11. Using an online questionnaire the researchers divided the responses into two groups, children ages 4-7 and children ages 8-11. Here are the findings: 49% of children with autism spectrum disorders in the 4-7 age group were determined to wander (also described as bolting, elopement, running, and fleeing). Of these wanderers, more than a quarter had gone missing for a concerning amount of time. In contrast, only 14% of the neurotypical (without ASD) siblings wandered. In the 8-11 age group, 27% of the children with ASD wandered, and only 1% of their neurotypical siblings wandered.
The researchers were able to generalize some common characteristics related to autistic wanderers.
- Wanderers are more likely to be the older children in the group
- Wanderers are more likely to have ASD with severe symptoms
- Wanderers are more likely to have lower communication scores than non-wanderers
- Wanderers reported missing have the above characteristics and are also less likely to respond to their name.
Next time we’ll address why wandering occurs and the dangers involved.
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.
June 2012 Occurrence and Family Impact of Elopement in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders
Connie Anderson, J. Kiely Law, Amy Daniels, Catherine Rice, David S. Mandell, Louis Hagopian, Paul A. Law