Managing Editor's Note: Thank you to National Autism Association for spearheading this study so that doctors around the globe wake up to the ravaging effects of the autism epidemic. We all do our best to shed light on the tragedies (and triumphs) of daily life with a child on the spectrum - but doctors tend to listen best (insert cough here) to formal studies rather than to informed parents. If YOU have a child who wanders - or know someone who needs help in their household, we implore you to visit AWAARE.org.
Boston, MA – A new study published today in Pediatrics found that approximately half of children with autism wander from a safe setting, a rate nearly four times that of their unaffected siblings. The study, conducted by the IAN Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, is the first research effort to scientifically validate that elopement is a critical safety issue for the autism community. Advocates hope its findings will lead to much-needed safety measures and support for families struggling with the issue.
The study’s key findings showed that:
- 49% of children with autism wander/elope from safe settings
- More than one third of children who elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number verbally or by writing/typing
- Two in three parents report their missing children had a “close call” with a traffic injury
- 32% of parents report their missing children had a “close call” with a possible drowning
- Wandering was ranked among the most stressful ASD behaviors by 58% of parents of elopers
- 62% of families with children who elope were prevented from attending/enjoying activities outside the home due to fear of wandering
- 40% of parents had suffered sleep disruption due to fear of elopement
- Half of families with elopers report they had never received advice or guidance about elopement from a professional
In 2010, the National Autism Association (NAA) sounded the alarm on the wandering issue when it made a statement before a federal committee outlining the need for wandering data and federal resources. “We began seeing a rise in wandering incidents and fatalities,” says NAA President Wendy Fournier.
According to NAA, accidental drowning caused 91% of wandering deaths from 2009 to 2011, and 23% of total deaths happened under the care of someone other than a parent. “This is not a ‘bad parenting’ issue,” says Fournier. “We hear from parents who sleep next to their child’s bed at night, or in front of the door. They live in constant fear of the worst.” Fatalities in 2012 have doubled those of last year, and in the last two weeks alone, three children and one teenager with autism have died after wandering from safe environments.
“Children with autism are drawn to water,” says Fournier. Fournier’s daughter wandered from her home in 2009 to seek out a neighbor’s pool. “Thankfully, our neighbor quickly spotted her and brought her home safely,” she says. “Out of the six locks on our front doors, our daughter is now able to get through three. Like most parents in the community, we remain on high alert 24/7.”
To combat wandering deaths, NAA created the AWAARE Collaboration, along with the Big Red Safety Box program – an initiative that has shipped over 5,000 free safety kits for autism families. For more information, visit http://www.awaare.org.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL
Founded in 2003, the National Autism Association is a parent-run advocacy organization and the leading voice on urgent issues related to autism safety, abuse, and crisis prevention. Its mission is to respond to the most urgent needs of the autism community, providing real help and hope so that all affected can reach their full potential. For more information, visit http://nationalautismassociation.org.