Wandering in Children on the Spectrum

The tendency of children on the spectrum to wander off impulsively is a huge safety issue. Wandering off without warning — also known as elopement or bolting — can have tragic results, as children attracted to water have drowned. The behavior is in part attributed to an impaired sense of danger, which might inhibit a neurotypical child from leaving caregivers. Other explanations for bolting range from goal-directed (heading to a favorite place, pursuing something of interest) to escaping a stressor (an anxious situation or uncomfortable sensory stimuli).

In a survey, more than 800 parents reported that roughly 50 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 10 with an ASD wander at some point, four times more than their unaffected siblings. The behavior peaks at 4, but almost 30 percent of kids with an ASD between the ages of 7 and 10 are still eloping, eight times more than their unaffected brothers and sisters.

The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education (AWAARE) Collaboration site has advice for families about making the home safe and other measures to guard against wandering.

Read more about autism and wandering here.