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Putting the Pieces Together in the Granite State

Wandering shown to be a Critical Safety Issue for Children with ASD

In a study published last month in the journal Pediatrics (Epub ahead of print), researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute found that nearly half of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are reported to wander or “bolt,” and more than half of these children go missing.

Based on a sample of more than 1200 children with ASD, Dr. Paul Law and colleagues sought to assess the prevalence of a problem long reported by parents -- the tendency of children on the autism spectrum to "wander" or elope.  The study was conducted through the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), the nation's largest online research initiative.  To see the article, link here.

"Wandering is somewhat misleading," explains Easter Seals Elizabeth Webster, who provides training about autism to cadets at the NH Police Academy.  "Children on the autism spectrum are often very intentional about where they are going, and worse, that could be a busy street or a neighbor's pool," she added.  According to Webster, there have been a number of close calls in the Granite State, but no fatalities that she knows of due to elopement among the more than 2000 children with ASD in NH.

Webster's concerns are consistent with the behavior that researchers described:

Elopement Prevalence
  • 49 percent of children with ASD attempted to elope at least once after age 4.
  • Of those who attempted to elope, 53 percent of children with ASD went missing long enough to cause concern. 
  • From age 4 to 7, 46 percent of children with ASD eloped, which is four times the rate of unaffected siblings.  
  • From age 8 to 11, 27 percent of affected children eloped compared with 1 percent of unaffected siblings.

Elopement Behavior
  • When eloping, 74 percent of affected children eloped from their own home or someone else’s home. Children also eloped from stores (40 percent) and classroom or schools (29 percent). 
  • Close calls with traffic injury were reported for 65 percent of the missing children.
  • Close calls with drowning were reported for 24 percent of the missing children.
  • Elopement attempts peaked at age 5 for children with an autism spectrum disorder.

Characteristics of Eloping
  • Children who have eloped are older, more likely to have an ASD, present more severe autism symptoms and have lower intellectual and communication scores than non-elopers.
  • Children who were reported as missing were older, more likely to have experienced skill loss and less likely to respond to their name. They were also more likely to have lower intellectual and communication scores than non-missing children. 
  • On average, children were missing for 41.5 minutes

Safety Resources

Elopement is one of many safety concerns reported by parents of children who have an autism spectrum disorder.

General Information
There are now several excellent national safety campaigns focusing on individuals with

  • Autism Speaks, Autism Safety Project, link here

​Preliminary results of a study sponsored by IAN suggest that the majority of children with ASD (63%) are bullied

  • The Interactive Autism Network (IAN), preliminary results, link here.
  • Kid Power, 8 Skills Kids Can Use Right Away, link here.

Emergency Preparedness
​As Super Storm Sandy demonstrated, natural disasters are especially hard on two groups -- elders and people with disabilities.

  • FEMA, "Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities...,"link here.

Safety tools, including window decals, alarm systems, and locators.

Restraint and Seclusion​
​Despite tremendous progress in promoting the use of positive behavioral intervention, restraint and other aversive techniques are still used by some schools.  

  • Autism National Committee (AutCom), link here.
  • Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS), link here.

Elopement is a serious safety concern for children with ASD. Some were reported to wander away several times a week. Along with the General Information sites above, see:

  • Autism Risk and Safety Management (site by Dennis Debbaudt), link here.
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