Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) impact families in countless ways. But one behavior associated with these disorders is especially troubling.
New study findings confirm what parents have been reporting for years: that some children with ASD often place themselves in danger by wandering off, or “eloping.”
The greater the severity of the disorder, say researchers, the greater the risk that kids would wander away from their home, a store, the classroom or school.
Children with autism do not interact with the world as we do, says Farah Lokey, MD, of Southwestern Pediatrics of Gilbert.
Lokey, a member of the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that children with ASD can become deeply focused on an obsession.
In pursuit of this interest, they don’t always take the outside world or their families into account. “They are intrigued and focused on their pet subject,” she says, “and will do anything or go anywhere to learn more and more about it.”
Nearly half of the families surveyed for the study, which will appear in the November issue of Pediatrics, reported that their child had attempted to elope at least once after age 4. In half of those cases, children were missing long enough to cause concern.
Nearly half of parents said their child didn’t wander away because of confusion, or getting lost. Instead, the children acted with intention. They became overly focused on going somewhere or doing something in particular.
The parents reported that the wandering off led to close calls with traffic injuries or drownings. Often, the concerns led parents to call the police.
The parents who were surveyed said that elopement was among the most stressful behaviors to cope with as caregivers of a child with ASD. Yet many said they received no guidance from anyone on preventing or addressing this behavior.
Lokey recommends that beefing up home security systems can be especially useful for families with a child who has ASD.
At school, a child with ASD should be paired with a watchful aide, she adds. Stay one step ahead and keep materials and activities in the home that help satisfy a child’s constant curiosity or intense focus on a particular area of interest so they won’t be tempted to wander off.
Support from doctors, caregivers, aides in school and therapists, says Lokey, help children with ASD to do well, eventually developing connections and finding satisfaction in their relationship to family and friends. Hopefully, those connections will reduce the desire to venture out alone.
RAK Archives: What’s next after an ASD diagnosis?