There are various reasons someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may wander, but mainly they are looking to either get to something or away from something. Wandering occurrences tend to increase in warmer months when persons with ASD are more likely to play outside or attend summer or day camps.
In 2008, Danish researchers found that the mortality rate among the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) population is twice as high as the general population. In 2001, a California research team found that elevated death rates among those with ASD were in large part attributed to drowning. Drowning often occurs as a result of wandering off. Drowning, along with prolonged exposure and other factors, remain among the top causes of death within the autism population.
Last year, “autism wandering” became an official diagnosis in the United States with its own medical code. Some of those afflicted enter strangers’ houses. Others end up in traffic or on train tracks. Many find their way to nearby pools or ponds.
It is thought children have individual “triggers” that lead them to wander — either to get away from something that bothers them or to seek out their particular fascination, such as water.
A new, unfamiliar, or unsecured environment, such as a relative’s home, may also trigger wandering, as well as episodes of distress, meltdowns, or times when a child or adult with autism has certain fears or anxiety.
From the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Dr. Paul Law led a study that provided the first national figures on wandering. The survey comprised more than 800 parents of children with autism.
Nearly half of these children between the ages of 4 and 10 had wandered at least once. However, because this was a self-selected group of parents — not a random sample — the results might not reflect the experience of all families.
Law said that no matter how vigilant a parent is, some children find a way to get out
Autism advocacy groups want wandering incidents to trigger Amber Alerts, a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. Unfortunately because that system is meant only for abducted children, wanderers don’t qualify. A grassroots movement is afoot to implement “Mason Alerts,” named in honor of Mason Allen Medlam, who drowned after wandering.
There are already some options to track down a child who has wandered as quickly as possible.