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Thousands of Children with Special Needs Wander Away Yearly

Date Published: 
February 4, 2016

A new study by researchers at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York says that more than 250,000 school-age children with autism or other developmental disorders wander away from adult supervision each year, risking their safety.

More than a quarter of children with special needs in the study had left a safe environment, especially public places, within the previous 12 months. Wandering occurred more often in children ages 6 to 11, than in those ages 12 to 17.

Children with autism were at particular risk. “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,” said Andrew Adesman, MD, senior investigator of the study. “First responders need to recognize that children or young adults with an autism spectrum disorder may over-react to some well-intentioned interventions and may be unresponsive to simple commands or questions.”

The Interactive Autism Network did the first large study of wandering among children with autism: IAN Research Report: Elopement and Wandering.