This is when a person tries to leave the safety of a responsible person’s care or a safe area. Harm or injury may then happen. Wandering happens in many ways. For example, running away from adults at school or in public, leaving the classroom without permission, or leaving the house when the family is not looking are kinds of wandering. Wandering is common in all toddlers. However, sometimes, wandering may continue or come back in older children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD have challenges with social skills and safety. That is why wandering can be dangerous and why there is a risk of serious injury.
Research shows that about 1 in 3 young children with ASD has tried to wander off. This behavior may continue to happen in older children and even teenagers and adults with ASD. This is concerning since many people with ASD may not be able to share their names, addresses, or phone numbers if they get lost.
Up to half of children with ASD who wander are missing long enough to concern their parents. In one survey, 1 out of 3 parents said they have called the police to help find a wandering child. Two out of 3 parents said their wandering children had close calls with traffic injuries. About 1 out of 3 parents reported near drowning in water. Older children and adults with ASD who wander may also have challenges with law enforcement officers. This might happen when they do not answer officers in a way officers expect or if they can’t communicate at all. Untrained officers may mistakenly think that people with ASD are drunk or are using drugs.
Children with ASD wander off for a variety of reasons. Some parents of children with ASD say their children have these reasons for wandering.
Enjoying running or exploring
Wanting to go to a place they enjoy (such as the park)
Trying to get out of an anxious situation (such as challenges at school)
Looking for a special interest (like when a child who loves trains heads for train tracks)
Trying to get away from uncomfortable things like loud noises, bad tastes, etc