A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2016 | Number 1, Volume 30

Large numbers of kids with ASD wander

More than 26% of children with special needs wander away from adult supervision each year, according to a new study, and children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are at highest risk. 

Bridget Kiely and colleagues used data from a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of caregivers of more than 4,000 children between the ages of 6 and 17 years with special needs. They divided the children into three groups: children with ASD only, children with intellectual disability (ID) or developmental delay (DD) only, and children with both ASD and ID or DD. 

The researchers found that children with autism, with or without ID or DD, were more likely to wander than children without ASD. Children 11 years of age or younger were at highest risk. 

They also found that regardless of diagnosis, children who wandered were more likely to be unaware of the danger, to have difficulty differentiating between strangers and familiar people, to show sudden mood swings and become angry quickly, to overreact, to get lost easily, and to panic in response to new situations. 

“The kids who are most likely to wander are the kids who are least likely to respond appropriately to police or rescue personnel, potentially further jeopardizing their safety,” says study coauthor Andrew Adesman. “First responders need to recognize that children or young adults with an autism spectrum disorder may overreact to some well-intentioned interventions and may be unresponsive to simple commands or questions.” 


“Prevalence and correlates of elopement in a nationally representative sample of children with developmental disabilities in the United States,” Bridget Kiely, Talia R. Migdal, Sujit Vettam, and Andrew Adesman, PLOS ONE, February 4, 2016 (online). Address: Andrew Adesman, [email protected]


“Cohen Children’s Medical Center study: Children on autism spectrum more likely to wander, disappear,” news release, February 4, 2016.