Have you ever had your kid wander off? It’s especially terrifying if your kid is on the autism spectrum, and has trouble communicating. Parents of kids with autism have long been reporting a tendency for their kids to bolt, and now a new study is confirming that almost half of them do, even after age 4, an age when most kids have grown out of the behavior. In fact, this frightening behavior peaks at around age 5.
Published in Pediatrics, the study found that among more than 1,300 children with autism, 49% had “eloped,” or wandered off, at least once after age 4, four times the rate of their non-autistic siblings. 26% went missing long enough to cause their families alarm. Among the kids who wandered, 56% had close calls with traffic, and 24% were in danger near water. Children eloped most commonly from their home, a store, classroom or school.
Sadly, we read about missing child cases like these in the news every few months, and often the end result is tragic. "Elopement is one of the very few problems in autism that is life-threatening," says pediatrician Paul Law, senior author of the study and director of the Interactive Autism Network Project in Baltimore. "It is probably one of the leading, if not the leading, causes of death in children with autism," he says.