Wandering: Higher Risks for those with Autism

The thought of losing a child due to wandering is terrifying to most parents. When it comes to parents who have an autistic child, however, it is even scarier, as wandering is more prevalent in those with autism spectrum disorder.

Every few days a child with autism is reported missing. Sometimes there is good news and the child is found, while other times the results are tragic. On Friday a 10- year old autistic boy in California was found safe after have gone missing for around 5 hours. Earlier in the week, Michael Kingsbury, a 7-year-old autistic boy, was found dead after missing for nearly 36 hours.

A recent study conducted by the Kennedy Krieger Institute has shown how much more common it is for children with autism to wander compared to children without.

Autism children from the ages of 4 to 7 are 35% more likely to wander than typical children without autism.  When it comes to children between 8 and 11, neuro typical children have a 1% chance of wandering, while children with autism have 21% chance of wandering. This figure drops significantly for children between 4 and 7, but it is still high.

In regard to children who do end up wandering, 65% have close calls to traffic related injuries and 27% have close calls with drowning.

Regardless of if the child is autistic or not, here are a few options that can be implemented to help prevent wandering:

1. Fences with a child-proof lock greatly reduce the chance of a child wandering.
2. One-on-One supervision at school.
3. A secured home with locked and alarmed windows and doors.
4. Clear communication when it comes to knowing who is watching the child.
5. GPS trackers and sensors to sound an alert and maintain tracking of the child.
6. Service dogs that are trained to try and prevent wandering, as well as notify others if the individual leaves the dog’s side.

In case a child does end up wandering, 911 should be called immediately and a search team should be gathered to search his or her favorite locations. It is then suggested that an emergency form be created and handed out, which contains the missing child’s photo, weight, eye color, hair color, weight, and clothes he or she was wearing prior to going to missing.