Kids With Autism May Wander Off

Autistic kids may run from safety and into danger and severe autism raises the risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Parents often report that their kids with autism will wander off and into dangerous situations, but little research has looked at this behavior.

A recent study found that almost half of kids with autism wander off from their parents and some may go missing for hours. They found that more severe autism symptoms raised the risk of these behaviors.

There are no interventions to target this type of behavior. For now, parents and health care providers can work together to keep kids safe.

"Talk to a psychiatrist about your child's safety."

Toddlers wander off from their parents care – into the street, across the grocery store, towards a swimming pool.

After age 4, most kids stop wandering off. However, parents of children with autism reported that these types of behaviors sometimes continued into childhood.

So, researchers, led by Connie Anderson, PhD, of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, wanted to find out how many kids with autism are wandering off. They looked at the symptoms of 1,218 kids with autism who were over the age of four.

They asked parents if their child had ever wandered off, been in danger when wandering off or gone missing for a period of time.

Forty-nine percent of kids in the study wandered off from their parents at least once after they were 4-years-old.

About one in four of the kids, 26 percent, went missing long enough to cause the parents to worry.

Of the kids who went missing, more than half put themselves into a situation where they could have been hurt in traffic.

The kids with more severe autistic symptoms were more likely to have these types of behaviors.

They also asked parents about how these behaviors affected the family. Fifty-six percent of parents said that wandering behaviors were the most stressful symptoms of their child’s condition.

Sixty-two percent of parents said that their child’s wandering had caused them to limit activities outside of their home.

This study shows that wandering off and going missing are not rare behaviors, and these behaviors are very stressful to parents.

The authors call for more research and the development of interventions to help parents with these behaviors.

The authors concluded, “In the meantime, it is our hope that the results of this study will inform families, physicians, educators, and first responders who currently grapple with the consequences…”

This study was published October 8 in Pediatrics. The authors disclose no financial conflicts.

The study was funded by the Autism Research Institute, the Autism Science Foundation, Autism Speaks, the Global Autism Collaboration, and the National Autism Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 4, 2012
Last Updated:
October 8, 2012