“Elopement, or wandering, places children with autism spectrum disorders at risk of serious injury or even death once they are away from adult supervision,” said senior investigator Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Centre (CCMC) of New York.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) referes to a group of complex brain development disorders characterised by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviours.
“Despite its clear relevance to the safety of these children, there has been little research on elopement,” Adesman pointed out.
The researchers examined data from a Centres for Disease Control and Prevention survey of parents and guardians of more than 4,000 children ages six to 17 diagnosed with ASD, an intellectual disability or developmental delay.
For their studies, analysis was restricted to only those children with ASD.
The researchers found that wanderers were more likely to not realise when they are in danger, to have difficulty distinguishing between strangers and familiar people, to show sudden mood changes, to over-react to situations and people, to get angry quickly, and to panic in new situations or if change occurs.
The researchers also found that wanderers were more than twice as likely to elope from a public place, compared to their home or school.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Baltimore, US.
“As the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in the United States continues to rise, there is a need to better understand the behaviors that may compromise the safety and well-being of these children,” principal investigator of the study Bridget Kiely from CCMC noted.