Does your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) like to wander? Research from the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York (CCMC) finds that wandering is common among children with ASD. The study revealed that each year around one-quarter of children with ASD wander away from their parents or guardians. The results can help parents and researchers understand common behaviors in autism and prepare police officers or other first responders to interact with children on the spectrum.
The researchers based their work on data from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. The 2011 study surveyed the parents and guardians of more than 4,000 children ages 6 to 17 with ASD, intellectual disability (ID), or developmental delay (DD). The researchers compared the wandering behavior of children with only ASD, children with ASD and ID or DD, and children with only ID or DD.
In the past 12 months, 26 percent of special needs children in the study had wandered away from a safe environment. Children with ASD, whether or not they had ID or DD, were the most likely to wander, wandering more frequently than children with only ID or DD. Younger children (ages 6 to 11) were more prone to wandering than older children (ages 12 to 17). Children most commonly wandered off in public places and the children who did wander were the most likely to not identify when a situation was dangerous.
“Wandering has become a greater concern. 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,” stated senior study investigator Andrew Adesman, MD, chief of developmental pediatrics at CCMC.
The study also found that some parents take preventative measures against their children’s wandering. Parents of kids with ASD, ID, or DD, were more likely to use fences, locks, alarms, or electronic tracking devices.
This research is published in the journal PLOS One.