Similar to wandering behaviors in the Alzheimer’s community, wandering and elopement behaviors in children and adults with autism have led to countless tragedies across the country.
In 2011, a study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network through the Kennedy Krieger Institute found that roughly half, or 49%, of children with autism attempt to elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times higher than their unaffected siblings.
It also found that more than one third of children with autism who wander/elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number. Two in three parents of elopers reported their missing children had a “close call” with a traffic injury. Thirty-two percent of parents reported a “close call” with a possible drowning. Wandering was also ranked among the most stressful autism behaviors by 58% of parents of elopers. Half of families with elopers report they had never received advice or guidance about elopement from a professional.
According to the National Autism Association, in 2009, 2010, and 2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91% total U.S. deaths reported in children with autism ages 14 and younger subsequent to wandering/elopement. Sixty-eight percent of these deaths happened in a nearby pond, lake, creek or river.
There are various reasons someone with autism may wander. More often than not, he/she will wander to something of interest, especially water, or away from something that is bothersome, such as uncomfortable noise or bright lights.
Outdoor gatherings present a unique challenge since it is often assumed there are more eyes on the child or adult with autism. However, heavy distractions coupled with an over-stimulating setting can lead to a child or adult wandering off without notice.
Children and adults with autism wander from all types of settings, such as educational, therapeutic, residential, camp programs, outdoor, public places, and home settings, including relatives and babysitters’ homes.
Wandering and elopement tend to increase in warmer months, especially in mid-section areas of the US where home layouts and routines are adapted to accommodate changing weather. Persons with autism are also more likely to play outside or attend summer or day camps during this time.
Please click here for a list of YMCA locations that offer special needs swimming lessons, and be sure that your child’s last lesson is with clothes and shoes on.
NAA President, Wendy Fournier discusses Autism-Related Wandering
with Erik Nanstiel of FAIR Autism Media.