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Occurrence and Family Impact of Elopement in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders

In Autism Spectrum Disorders, School Psychology, Special Education on Thursday, 11 October 2012 at 11:58

Running Away Common with Autism

By Genevra Pittman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Oct 08 – Almost half of children with autism in a new study had run away at least once – and many of them were missing long enough to cause concern.

Researchers found that kids most often wandered off from their home, school or a store, and some tried to run away multiple times a day.

But rather than being confused about where they were, kids typically left to find a place they enjoyed, to explore or to avoid an anxious or uncomfortable situation, based on their parents’ reports.

“It’s rooted in the very nature of autism itself,” said Dr. Paul Law, who worked on the study.

“Kids don’t have the social skills to check in with their parents, and to have that communication and social bond that most children have when they’re approaching a road or at a park.”

Dr. Law directs the Interactive Autism Network Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. With funding from a number of autism research and advocacy groups, he and his colleagues used their registry to survey the parents of 1,218 kids with an autism spectrum disorder.

Of those kids, 598 – or 49% – had tried to run away at least once, their parents reported. And 316 were missing long enough to cause concern – an average of more than 40 minutes.

In comparison, the same parents reported 13% of their non-autistic children had ever wandered off after age four.

Most of the kids with autism who went missing were in danger of getting hit by cars, and others could have drowned. Police had to be called for one-third of missing children.

“Amongst the families we did interview, there were many reports of injuries, close calls with drowning (and) close calls with traffic accidents,” Dr. Law told Reuters Health.

“There’s an enormous burden that all families are undergoing to keep their families safe. The amount of diligence, and not going out in public, and staying up late at night… just the general anxiety that families live under because of concerns with this is just torturous.”

Children with more severe autism were more likely to have bolted, according to findings published Monday in Pediatrics.

Autism researcher Russell Lang from Texas State University-San Marcos said the prevalence of running away or “eloping” in children with autism “absolutely surprised” him.

“It’s a very dangerous behavior, and it’s a little bit deceptive because it can seem somewhat benign compared to other challenging behaviors,” Lang, who wasn’t involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.

Those other “challenging behaviors” common in kids with autism include self-injury and property destruction, he said. They often get lumped together with running away, which is why researchers haven’t had a good estimate of the prevalence of elopement until now.

The new study couldn’t estimate how many children with autism die every year due to running away and getting into danger, the researchers said.

“This is not simply a case of parents being remiss in some way regarding their supervision of their children,” Lang said. “The child with autism doesn’t realize what danger they’re putting themselves in. They have a propensity to elope, it seems, regardless of parental care.”

He said therapy that rewards kids for not wandering off may help prevent them from disappearing in the future.

Dr. Law advises parents to reach out to advocacy groups to learn about safe locks for their doors and tracking devices for kids. And emergency responders can be better prepared for getting the call when a child with autism goes missing.

Still, he added, “we haven’t totally come to consensus on what some of the best practices are” to prevent running away.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/RLrO7s

Retrieved from: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/772243?src=nl_topic

Occurrence and Family Impact of Elopement in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders

Connie Anderson, PhDaJ. Kiely Law, MDa,bAmy Daniels, PhDa,c Catherine Rice, PhDdDavid S. Mandell, ScDeLouis Hagopian, PhDa,b, and Paul A. Law, MD, MPHa,b

 ABSTRACT:

OBJECTIVES: Anecdotal reports suggest that elopement behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) increases risk of injury or death and places a major burden on families. This study assessed parent-reported elopement occurrence and associated factors among children with ASDs.

METHODS: Information on elopement frequency, associated characteristics, and consequences was collected via an online questionnaire. The study sample included 1218 children with ASD and 1076 of their siblings without ASD. The association among family sociodemographic and child clinical characteristics and time to first elopement was estimated by using a Cox proportional hazards model.

RESULTS: Forty-nine percent (n = 598) of survey respondents reported their child with an ASD had attempted to elope at least once after age 4 years; 26% (n = 316) were missing long enough to cause concern. Of those who went missing, 24% were in danger of drowning and 65% were in danger of traffic injury. Elopement risk was associated with autism severity, increasing, on average, 9% for every 10-point increase in Social Responsiveness Scale T score (relative risk 1.09, 95% confidence interval: 1.02, 1.16). Unaffected siblings had significantly lower rates of elopement across all ages compared with children with ASD.

CONCLUSIONS: Nearly half of children with ASD were reported to engage in elopement behavior, with a substantial number at risk for bodily harm. 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.

Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/10/02/peds.2012-0762.abstract

 

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