A new study published October 8 in the journal Pediatrics 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. Led by researchers from the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), the nation's largest online autism research initiative and a project of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, this study provides the most comprehensive estimate of elopement occurrence in a United States community-based sample of more than 1,200 children with ASD.
"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," says Dr. Paul Law, senior author and director of the IAN Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. "These are the first published findings in the U.S. 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."
Participants in the study included families of 1,218 children with ASD and 1,076 of their siblings without ASD recruited through an online questionnaire. The primary outcome measured by researchers was elopement status beginning at age 4, when elopement and wandering are increasingly atypical behaviors. "Missing" status was a secondary outcome; a child who eloped and had gone missing long enough to cause concern was coded as missing, whereas those who had not were coded as non-missing. The study's findings on elopement prevalence, characteristics correlated with elopement and qualitative measures of family stress are presented below.
Characteristics of Eloping
Impact of Elopement on Family
"We hope that the results of this study will inform families, physicians, educators and first responders of the real consequences of elopement," says Dr. Law. "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."
Future research is needed to determine whether there are different types of elopement, requiring different prevention strategies. With a greater understanding of elopement, researchers will have the ability to develop more targeted interventions to assist parents in coping with this extremely stressful behavior.
This research was funded by the Autism Research Institute, Autism Science Foundation, Autism Speaks, Global Autism Collaboration, and National Autism Association.
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