In November 2013, a study released in Pediatrics showed that 49% of children with autism are prone to wandering, a rate four times higher than their unaffectedsiblings. This indicates that this is not an issue of bad parenting. From 2009 to 2011, 23% of children who died following a wandering incident were in the care of someone other than a parent. Again, this issue is happening across all settings, under various types of supervision.

The data also showed that only 50% of our parents have received advice about wandering prevention from a professional. Sadly, many in our community are unaware that wandering is even an issue.

So, instead of asking why the parents took their eyes off their child (something all parents do when we sleep, shower, cook, go to the bathroom), the better question to ask is: how can we help children progress so that they understand ways to stay safe?


  • Nearly half of children with autism engage in wandering behavior
  • Wandering occurs across all settings, under every type of adult supervision
  • Increased risks are associated with autism severity
  • Half of families report they have never received advice or guidance about wandering from a professional
  • Accidental drowning accounts for approximately 90% of lethal outcomes


Similar to wandering behaviors in seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s, children with Autism are prone to wandering away from a safe environment. Unfortunately, many cases end in tragedy.


Wandering is the tendency for an individual to try to leave the safety of a responsible person’s care or a safe area, which can result in potential harm or injury.  This might include running off from adults at school or in the community, leaving the classroom without permission, or leaving the house when the family is not looking.  This behavior is considered common and short-lived in toddlers, but it may persist or re-emerge in children and adults with autism.  Children with autism have challenges with social and communication skills and safety awareness.  This makes wandering a potentially dangerous behavior.  Wandering may also be referred to as Elopement; Bolting; Fleeing; Running.


Drowning; Exposure; Dehydration; Hypothermia; Traffic Injuries; Falls; Physical Restraint; Encounters with strangers; Encounters with law enforcement.