Wandering children with ASD vulnerable to death and injuries: Study

Wandering children with ASD vulnerable to death and injuries: Study

There are children with different abilities and there are some with certain disabilities. Among the many diseases that affect a child’s mental health, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex condition that affects nearly one in 68 children in the United States, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children suffering from ASD face difficulties interacting with others due to their inability to engage in any kind of verbal or non-verbal communication.

Children afflicted with ASD tend to wander freely and, at times, sneak away from their caretakers, which lands them into serious trouble, including an injury or even death. A recent study by the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York revealed the high tendency of elopement in children with ASD or other development conditions.

Isolation may predispose autistic children to walk away from parents

In the study, titled “Prevalence and Correlates of Elopement in a Nationally Representative Sample of Children with Developmental Disabilities in the United States,” the researches tried to evaluate the incidence of elopement in American children with ASDs and other mental disorders. The data for the research published in the journal PLoS One in February 2016 was obtained from the “Pathways” survey conducted by the CDC.

A telephonic survey was carried out on parents of 4,032 children afflicted with some kind of cognitive impairment, of which the scientists focused on 3,518 children with ASD, intellectual disability (ID) and development delay (DD). The children were then classified into three groups based on their intellectual condition: those with ASD, those suffering from ID/DD and those suffering from ASD and ID/DD.

The findings revealed that an estimated 26.7 percent of the children had wandered away during the year prior to the study. Also, it was observed that the children had run away during public sittings. Further analysis revealed that children suffering from ASD were more inclined to sneak away than those categorized under the ID/DD group.

Suggesting the possible reasons of this kind of behavior manifested by those with ASD, Dr. Andrew Adesman, Chief of Development and Behavioral Pediatrics at the center, said, “I suspect the most likely reason is that children with ASD don’t have the same degree of social connectedness or engagement. They will be less likely to engage in social activities – perhaps instead watching alone from the perimeter– and their social isolation may predispose them to walk away from a parent, guardian, or other supervising adult if given the opportunity.”

Emphasizing that ASD children run away because of their different sensory profile than children with other kinds of cognitive impairments, Adesman, added, “Given these risks, parents and care providers need to take extra precautions, because tragedy can strike in the shortest of intervals.”

Taking cue from warning signs

As children with ASD can elope even from surroundings familiar to them, guardians and caregivers need to adopt measures that can help their wards avoid losing their way. Doctors advise parents to:

  • make their children wear an identification bracelet
  • make use of tracking devices based on global positioning system (GPS)
  • provide guidelines focusing on wandering precautions to the individualized education program of the child
  • provide swimming lessons to the affected child as many ASD children, aged 14 or younger, have succumbed to drowning
  • apprise neighbors about an unsupervised child with ASD

Road to recovery

While bringing up an autistic child, parents tend to use the word “normal” as a measure of how their child must behave. While doing so, they tend to overlook the unique course of life their child is taking or their different approach towards the same thing.

If you are seeking treatment for your loved one for ASD or any other mental illness, you may get in touch with the Sovereign Mental Health Services for more information on innovative and evidence-based treatment options at one of our mental health centers. You may contact our 24/7 helpline at 866-954-0529 or chat online for further advice on mental health programs.

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