Children With Autism Tend to Wander

‘Elopement’ a common worry for parents

child walking alone

Nearly half of all children with autism will place themselves in danger by “eloping,” or wandering off at all hours. That’s the finding of a first-of-its kind study that tried to determine how often this kind of wandering occurs.

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Experts say kids with autism may wander for 3 reasons:

1. To escape

Parents or home therapists may expect kids to do something, and they elope to escape.

2. To get attention

A parent may get upset and the child with autism doesn’t understand, misinterpreting this and eloping to get attention.

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3. To get things they want

Some kids may want something tangible. For example, they may know their next-door neighbor has video games and want to play.

Study details

children with autism

In the survey of more than 1,300 families, conducted by researchers with the interactive autism network at Kennedy Krieger Institute, 49 percent  of families reported their autistic child tried to elope or wander outside the house at least once after age 4.

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The threat of elopement can affect a parent’s sleep, keep families from attending activities and become a major source of stress.

Advice for parents

Thomas Frazier, PhD, an autism expert, says parents should consider putting up alarms on the major doors of the house.

“That way, if the child were to wake up in the middle of the night — or even in the middle of the day if the parent was distracted — the child opens the door and the door alarm goes off and the parent becomes aware that they’re leaving the house,” Dr. Frazier says.

Complete findings for this study are in the journal Pediatrics.

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