Wandering is a critical safety issue for children with ASD.
The Interactive Autism Network (IAN), www.ianproject.org, the nation's largest online autism research project, reported this week the preliminary results of the first major survey on wandering among individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Approximately half of 800 parents who completed the survey reported that their child leaves safe places, with the behavior peaking at age four. Among these families, nearly half say that their child has gone missing long enough to cause significant concern about safety.
Highlights of the study:
Risk of trauma, injury, or death:
- More than one third of children who wander are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number verbally or by writing/typing.
- Two in three parents report their missing child has had a "close call" with a traffic injury.
- 32 percent of parents report a "close call" with a possible drowning.
Effect of wandering on families:
- Wandering was ranked among the most stressful ASD behaviors by 58 percent of the parents who reported the behavior in their children.
- 62 percent of families of children who wander were prevented from attending/enjoying activities outside the home because of fear of wandering.
- 40 percent of parents had suffered sleep disruption due to fear of wandering.
- Children with ASD are eight times more likely to wander between the ages of 7 and 10 than their typically developing siblings.
Resources/support for families:
- Half of families with children who wander report they have never received advice or guidance about the behavior from a professional.
- Only 19 percent have received such support from a psychologist or mental health professional.
- Only 14 percent have received guidance from their pediatrician or other physician.
Motivations for wandering:
Despite speculation that summer is the peak season for wandering, 67 percent of parents of children who wander said they saw no seasonal pattern at all; only 25 percent felt summer was the peak season.
Parent believe that the top five reasons for wandering are
- Enjoys exploring (54 percent)
- Heads for a favorite place (36 percent)
- Escapes demands/anxieties (33 percent)
- Pursues special topic (31 percent)
- Escapes sensory discomfort (27 percent)
The study shows that wandering is a critical safety issue for children with ASD and their families. "We hope that advocates and policy makers use this research to implement key safety measures to support these families and keep these children safe," says Dr. Paul Law, Director of the IAN Project.
Read the preliminary report of the study here.