Nearly Half of Children With Autism Wander

Risk of wandering tied to severity of autism; one-quarter missing long enough to cause concern

MONDAY, Oct. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly half of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) wander away, with considerable numbers of them facing physical danger, according to a study published online Oct. 8 in Pediatrics.

Connie Anderson, Ph.D., from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, and colleagues utilized online questionnaires to assess information on elopement frequency and associated characteristics and consequences for 1,218 children with ASD and 1,076 of their siblings without ASD.

The researchers found that 49 percent of respondents reported that their child with an ASD had attempted to elope at least once after age 4 and about one-quarter (26 percent) were missing for a long enough period to trigger concern. Twenty-four percent of those who went missing were in danger of drowning and 65 percent were in danger of traffic injury. Autism severity correlated with elopement risk and increased significantly (by 9 percent) for every 10-point increase in the Social Responsiveness Scale T score (relative risk, 1.09). Across all ages, the rates of elopement were significantly lower among unaffected siblings compared with children with ASD.

"Parents report high levels of stress and little support as they cope with elopement," the authors write. "Research further characterizing the behavior and developing and refining interventions to address elopement is urgently needed."

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