Autistic Children Most Likely to Run Away, Says Study Published by Pediatrics Journal

People hold signs showing the faces of children with autism to raise awareness on  development disorder.

People hold signs showing the faces of children with autism to raise awareness on development disorder.  (2008 Getty Images)

A recent study published by the Pediatrics Journal reveals autistic children are most likely to run away from their homes, leading to numerous injuries and deaths.

The behavior, described by the Journal as “elopement,” or “wandering,” has placed a heavy burden on families of autistic children, who often get hit by cars or drown after managing to sneak out of their house.

The Journal studied 1,218 children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and 1,076 of their siblings without ASD. Results concluded 49 percent of children with ASD have attempted to elope at least once after turning 4, and 26 percent were missing long enough to cause concern. Some of these children may have limited intellectual abilities which could prevent them from responding to their names when called.

“Nearly half of the children with ASD were reported to engage in elopement behavior, with a substantial number at risk for bodily harm,” concludes the Journal. “These results highlight the urgent need to develop interventions to reduce the risk of elopement, to support families coping with this issue, and to train child care professionals, educators, and first responders who are often involved when elopements occur.”

Experts say while it is widely known that autistic kids often wander from their home, how often it occurs was surprising.

“I knew this was a problem, but I didn’t know just how significant a problem it was until I really began to look into it,” said Dr. Paul A. Law, senior author of the study and director of the Interactive Autism Network, to the New York Times. “For children who are prone to wander, this is a pervasive problem that affects all aspects of families’ lives. Many parents just don’t go out in public with their child because they don’t feel safe with them, or they don’t get any sleep at night because the child once escaped through the upstairs window.”

For Hispanics, the rise of autism is particularly high.

There was an 110 percent increase in autism among Hispanic children from 2002-2008. The Centers for Disease Control says the increase, however, can be attributed to improved diagnosis over the years.

According to Amy Daniels, PhD Autism Speaks Assistant Director for Public Health Research, and co-author of the study at Kennedy Krieger, there aren’t reliable estimates of Hispanics with ASD, which means more studies are required to better understand the connection.

“Specific to this wandering study in Pediatrics, Latino parents, defined as ‘Hispanic’ in this study, were no more likely to report that their children had wandered in comparison with Caucasian parents,” explains Daniels. “That being said, the number of Latino parents who participated in this study was small. Only nine percent of the total study sample reported themselves as ‘Hispanic.’ While the findings from this study do not support ethnic differences in wandering among children with ASD, more research on among the Latino community on elopement is needed.”

Meanwhile, Danny Huerta, a counselor from Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based organization that provides parenting advice, also believes Latinos may need more aid than other ethnic groups.

“Latino autistic kids are more at risk because of the lack of financial resources and access to community resources,” says Huerta. “There are likely fewer Latino kids identified as autistic because of the lack of resources to help identify the kids. Also, the language barrier and fears of deportation can lead Latino families to withhold from seeking help. Diet makes a big difference in the behaviors of autistic kids. The kids have to be on as strict diet to help with the regulation of emotions and behaviors. Many Latino families cannot afford all organic diets.”

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