One-Third of Autistic Youngsters Wander from Safe Places, Study Finds

By Delthia Ricks

Tribune News Service

MELVILLE, N.Y. – More than one-third of children and teenagers with autism wandered away from safe environments within the past 12 months, according to a Long Island doctor who can’t determine when they are in danger.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, has produced two analyses on the problem. Data from both investigations were reported Saturday at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Baltimore.

Adesman and colleagues found that among the 1,420 youngsters between 6 and 17, more than 33 percent wandered. He predicts the problem will only worsen because of the rising number of children with autism.

“I think, realistically, that the statistics are an underestimate,” Adesman said. “Obviously, there are households where kids wandered more than a year ago and that has not been captured by the data. The statistics belie the magnitude of the problem.”

He also said his research misses “close calls,” situations when children bolt, but are quickly caught.

“Elopement, or wandering, put children with autism spectrum disorders at risk of serious injury or even death once they are away from adult supervision,” Adesman said.

Rosemary Barlone-Schaefer, a licensed behavior analyst in Long Island, said parents have quietly suffered for years.

“A lot of behaviors we see in autism are due to the inability of the child to communicate verbally,” she said.

Adesman is planning a research project that will begin later this year, examining GPS devices and the best types of technology for children on the autism spectrum.