Autism: Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder More Likely To Wander

First Posted: Feb 04, 2016 09:46 PM EST

A new study by researchers at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York (CCMC) found that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to wander away from an adult or caregiver than those without a behavioral health issue than those without the health problem. 

New findings published in the journal PLOS ONE examined elopement based on data from a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of parents and guardians, which included over 4,000 children between the ages of 6 and 17 with special health care needs. The children were divided into three groups, including those with ASD only, ASD with an intellectual disability (ID) and/or developmental delay (DD); and just ID and/or DD.

"Wandering has become a greater concern," said Andrew Adesman, MD, chief of developmental pediatrics at CCMC and senior investigator of the study, in a news release. "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."

The study showed that over 26 percent of children with special needs in the study had wandered away from a safe environment within the past 12 months-with public places being the most common location. This was also more common of participants between the ages of 6 to 11 than those between the ages of 12 to 17.

Researchers found that children with ASD--including those with and without cognitive delays--were more likely to wander off than children with cognitive impairment but no ASD. These children were also more likely to not recognize that they were in danger. 

"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."

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