Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Autistic children more likely to wander off or go ‘missing,’ study finds

Almost half of kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder will wander off or "bolt," often going missing long enough to cause their parents significant distress, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

"These are the first published findings in the U.S. that provide an estimate of the number of children with ASD who not only wander or elope, but go missing long enough to cause real concern," Dr. Paul Law, the study's senior author, said in a release. Researchers from the Interactive Autism Network, a U.S.-based research initiative, recruited families of 1,218 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and 1,076 of their siblings who do not have ASD. An online questionnaire discovered that 49 per cent of children with ASD attempted to elope, or run away, at least once after age 4. More than half of parents – 56 per cent – said elopement was one of the most stressful behaviours they had to deal with.

"You live in constant prevention mode," Lori McIlwain, whose 12-year-old son, Connor, is autistic, told ABC News. "You're always on high alert." A lot of young kids may at times wander off or run away, but the study found that from ages 4 to 7, nearly half of children with ASD eloped, which is quadruple the rate of their brothers or sisters without ASD. Between ages 8 and 11, only 1 per cent of their siblings ever eloped, compared to 27 per cent of children with ASD.

Story continues below advertisement

The dangers these children face are very real: Close calls with drowning and traffic injury were both reported in high numbers (24 per cent and 65 per cent, respectively).

The study also found that half of parents reported never receiving guidance on how to address or prevent children running away or wandering off.

"We hope that the results of this study will inform families, physicians, educators and first responders of the real consequences of elopement," Law said. "Parents often fear being viewed as neglectful when their children leave from safe places. This study demonstrates that we urgently need interventions to address elopement and provide support to affected families."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.