Nearly half of all children with autism spectrum disorder wander off from safe supervision at some point in their childhood or adolescence, reported Paul Lipkin, MD, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Drowning is overwhelmingly the main cause of death in children with autism,” he said, sharing the data from National Autism Association, which relied on parent report and media reports. In that data, 71% of deaths from autistic children who wandered from 2011-2016 were drowning, and of those deaths, 76% of the drownings occurred in a natural body of water or drainage water. At a distant second, 18% of deaths were traffic accidents. The remaining causes were being hit by a train (4%), hypothermia or hyperthermia (3%), falling (1%) or other trauma (3%) (J Autism Dev Disord. 2019 Mar 5. doi: 10.1007/s10803-019-03961-x).
Academic research has found similar statistics to those from the National Autism Association. In one study, 53% of autistic youth who attempted to run off succeeded and were missing long enough to cause safety concerns (Pediatrics. 2012 Nov;130:870-7). Among these youth – representing about a quarter of all families surveyed in the study – the police were called in 31% of cases. In addition, 65% had a “close call” with a traffic injury and 24% had a close call with drowning.
The children wandered off in various settings, including home; another’s home; a store or other public place; or school, daycare or camp. A 2019 study found that 70% of parents reported their children wandering off from home at least once in the past 2 years (J Autism Dev Disorders. 2019 Mar 5; doi: 10.1107/s10803-019-03961-x).