Friday 17 August 2018

Even more on wandering and autism

I don't know if it's just me being more attentive but I seem to be more regularly seeing media reports of children and adults diagnosed with autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) wandering from their family/caregiver home or other place. Some of these media reports end happily insofar as the person being found safe and unharmed to then be reunited with their loved ones; on occasion, using some important previously learned survival skills. Other reports however, don't have such a happy ending...

The paper by Laura McLaughlin and colleagues [1] brings the topic of wandering (elopement) back into research view, observing that in their cohort of nearly 1500 parents talking about their children diagnosed with an ASD: "22.4% of the children wandered from their home or yard and 24.6% from a public place more than monthly." Such research continues a theme down the years illustrating how wandering is an important issue when it comes to autism (see here) and how for some, wandering can lead to a very, very final outcome (see here).

Researchers distributed their anonymous on-line questionnaire about various aspects related to wandering through several autism-related organisations, encouraging parents of children diagnosed with autism/ASD to respond. This wasn't your typical 'does your child wander?' questionnaire, but instead also incorporated several related items such as "the use of electronic tracking devices,... use of restraints and/or seclusion to prevent wandering at school, and receipt of guidance about wandering."

About a quarter of parents said their child wanders (and wanders quite routinely) and the effects of such behaviour seemed to be quite wide-ranging. Not only did wandering reflect a worry for many parents - "48.6% and 58.7% of parents were moderately/very worried about their child wandering from home or yard or a public place" - but almost three-quarters of parents reported that wandering concerns affected "decisions to let their child spend time with friends or family in their absence." With such sentiments being expressed, it's not difficult to see why some parents with children with autism have to announce 'why I can never die' (see here). Perhaps also surprisingly, McLaughlin et al reported that only a third of parents in their cohort "had previously received any counseling about wandering."

I still maintain that wandering represents one of the most important 'issues' linked to autism (see here). Lots more resources need to be dedicated to the hows-and-whys of such behaviour (see here) and what can be done to reduce risks all round. I also think more needs to be done to talk about wandering in the context of autism and provide parents/caregivers with the information and tools ('best available evidence') about wandering. Given also the seemingly important relationship between wandering and water safety in particular (see here), I'm minded to again vocalise the (preferential) need to teach water and swimming skills as and when a child is diagnosed...


[1] McLaughlin L. et al. Wandering by Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Key Clinical Factors and the Role of Schools and Pediatricians. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2018 Jul 6.


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