The online journal, Pediatrics, published a survey results from over 1200 families containing children with autism. It revealed that 49 percent of those children wandered off at least once after the age of four. Of that 49 percent, nearly half of the children who disappeared for a period of time, were away long enough to be labeled as “missing.”
The use of the term “wandered” is not entirely accurate; most of these children left for a specific place, an actual destination. In some cases, they left to engage in a specific activity. The reasons why children with autism take off on their own vary. Most of the children wandering off appeared to do so while in a carefree, happy state of mind. However, those with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), were prone to leaving in an attempt to avoid feelings of anxiety brought on by their difficulties managing emotions.
Due to their lack of social skills, embarking on their own may be particularly dangerous for children with autism. According to information supplied by their parents, 24 percent of the time these children encountered a risk of drowning. Additionally, in 65 percent of cases, the children came in close contact with traffic, putting them in danger.
Parents of children with autism reported that the “wandering ways” of their kids was the most stressful part of having a child with the developmental disorder. Moreover, about half of these parents felt they had been given little support to help them deal with this aspect of their child’s disability.
In addition to the fear for their child’s safety is the anxiety parents experience when they consider how others might view them in light of their child’s wandering. According to Paul Law, director of IAN (the Interactive Autism Network), “Parents often fear being viewed as neglectful …”. As the senior author of the study on “wandering” of children with autism, Law believes there is an urgent need to address the problem and provide support to parents1.
Parents of children with special needs who wander, can seek support from schools and counselors for their kids in order to provide them with safety education. Curricula, such as our Circles© program, No-Go-Tell© and PeopleSmart ©, teach stranger awareness, appropriate social distance and anti-gullibility skills. Safety is a theme of many of our programs. These are available and widely used in schools and can serve as a support to families who encounter these issues. There is no perfect solution to the problem of corralling children who wander. Nevertheless, making sure they have survival skills, for instance the ability to ask for help and seek it from appropriate sources, can go a long way towards protecting them and easing the minds of their parents.
Copyright 2013 James Stanfield Company. All Rights Reserved.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.