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Half of All Children with Autism Wander


  • Published: 2011-04-20 (Revised/Updated 2018-01-26) : *Press Release: Kennedy Krieger Institute
  • Synopsis: This survey is the first research effort to scientifically validate that elopement is a critical safety issue for the autism community.

This survey is the first research effort to scientifically validate that elopement is a critical safety issue for the autism community.

Today, the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), www.ianproject.org, the nation's largest online autism research project, reveals the preliminary results of the first major survey on wandering and elopement among individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and announces the launch of a new research survey on the association between pregnancy factors and ASD. The wandering and elopement survey found that approximately half of parents of children with autism report that their child elopes, with the behavior peaking at age four. Among these families, nearly 50% say that their child went missing long enough to cause significant concern about safety.

"This survey is the first research effort to scientifically validate that elopement is a critical safety issue for the autism community," said Dr. Paul Law, Director of the IAN Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. "We hope that advocates and policy makers use this research to implement key safety measures to support these families and keep these children safe."

In just three weeks, more than 800 parents of children with autism completed the survey. The findings highlighted below summarize the compelling results and crucial safety concerns identified by parents. To read the preliminary findings in their entirety, visit www.iancommunity.org/cs/ian_research_reports/ian_research_report_elopement

Dangers of Elopement:

The tendency of individuals with ASD to wander or "bolt" puts them at risk of trauma, injury or even death:

Effect of Wandering on Families:

Resources, Support for Families:

Motivations for Elopement:

Despite speculation that summer is the peak season for elopement, 67% of parents of eloper's said they saw no seasonal pattern at all; only 25% felt summer was the peak season. The top 5 reasons parents believed their children eloped included:

After further analysis of the data the IAN Project will publish additional findings, such as how children with ASD who wander differ from children with ASD who do not, the financial and emotional burden on parents, and the steps parents take to prevent elopement.

This research was funded by the Autism Research Institute, Autism Science Foundation, Autism Speaks and Global Autism Collaboration.

Pregnancy and Birth Questionnaire:

The IAN Project also announces today the launch of a new research survey to explore the association between potential pregnancy- and birth-related factors and ASD. The research initiative will explore:

"It is very common for a woman whose child receives an autism diagnosis to agonize about possible causes, and to focus especially on her pregnancy or the child's birth," said Dr. Law. "Researchers are exploring a variety of possible pregnancy and birth factors that might be associated with ASDs. To advance research on potential causes of ASD, it's important to learn not only if any of these factors are linked to ASDs, but also which of them are not."

Comparisons between children with ASD and typical siblings are crucial to this research, so the IAN Project needs information on pregnancies and births of both children with ASD and their siblings. Survey participants must be U.S. residents enrolled in the IAN project (to register, visit www.ianresearch.org) and the birth mother of a child with an ASD who is between the ages of 0-17.

In addition to Autism Speaks, the Simons Foundation and the National Institutes of Health also support the IAN Project.

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