A new US study shows that nearly half of children with autism either wander off or intentionally run away, often putting themselves in dangerous situations.
Researchers from the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) recorded their findings in a paper expected to appear online in the journal Pediatrics. Director of the IAN project and senior author of the paper Paul Law said the following in a press statement:
“Since the launch of IAN, we have heard from families of children with autism that their children often place themselves in danger by wandering or eloping. These are the first published findings in the US that provide an estimate of the number of children with ASD who not only wander or elope, but go missing long enough to cause real concern.”
Law says that most autistic children will run away from their home or from someone else’s, a store, or school. Additionally, some children had tried to elope several times a day. Law says that this phenomenon is “rooted in the very nature of autism itself.” He says that autistic children don’t have the social skills to check in with parents before running off and that they will often do so out of curiosity or a desire to explore, to find an enjoyable place, and to get out of a stressful or uncomfortable situation, reports Medical News Today.
Researchers used online questionnaire responses from parents of 1,218 children with ASD and 1,076 unaffected siblings. The researchers found from this sample that 49 percent of children with autism tried to elope or run away at least once from age 4 onwards. Of these, 53 percent were missing long enough to cause concern. Between 4 and 7 years, 46 percent of autistic children had eloped or run away, four times the rate of their unaffected siblings. Between 8 and 11 years, 27 percent of autistic children had eloped, compared to 1 percent from unaffected siblings. Most attempts happen at around 5.4 years of age, with 29 percent of parents saying that, at this age, their child had tried to elope several times a day while 35 percent say that it happens once a week.
Over half (56 percent) of parents said that elopement was one of the most stressful behaviors that they had to cope with in the caring of an autistic child. Additionally, 50 percent said that they had received zero help or guidance to assist them in dealing with this behavior.
Law hopes that his team’s findings will “inform families, physicians, educators and first responders of the real consequences of elopement.”
“Parents often fear being viewed as neglectful when their children leave from safe places. This study demonstrates that we urgently need interventions to address elopement and provide support to affected families.”
Do you have an autistic child? Do you find this research to be accurate regarding your situation? Let us know in the comments below.