Autism Awareness: Advocates Discuss Risks Involved with Disorder

autism children wandering

On April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, advocates called attention to some of the lesser-known aspects of the disorder, including children wandering off from safety.

Autism affects an estimated one in 59 children in the United States, according to Autism Speaks, and symptoms can vary. It is diagnosed based on criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, reports CBS News.

Some symptoms of autism include:

  • social communication challenges
    • difficulty recognizing emotions in others and themselves
    • feeling overwhelmed in social situations
    • difficulty taking turns in conversation
  • restrictive, repetitive behaviors
    • body movements like rocking, spinning, etc.
    • with objects like spinning wheels, shaking sticks, etc.
    • need for routine/resistance to change

“The problem is autism is a highly complex disorder,” said Dr. Theresa Hamlin, associate executive director of The Center for Discovery. “The DSM really doesn’t do it justice in terms of all the other problems…sleep disorders, gastrointestinal problems and seizure disorders.”

The Center for Discovery offers residential, medical, clinical and special education programs. The group is focusing particularly on how to prevent children with autism from wandering off, a problem that experts are calling “elopement.”

According to the CDC, surveys of parents show that about half of children with autism were reported to have wandered off. Of those, about one in four were missing long enough to raise concern.

Hamlin says the group has seen correlations with gastrointestinal issues and children with autism wandering.

“When kids are constipated, which is often the case in autism, if they haven’t gone to the bathroom in several days, they’re more likely to run away during those days than when they’ve just had a bowel movement. So we need to understand more and those are things you can treat.”

She added that kids are likely to run away from things or they’re trying to avoid something and you need to have safety plans in place.

To prevent wandering or to keep children safe if they do wander, the CDC recommends:

  • having an emergency plan in place and alert neighbors/school workers
  • watch the child’s behavior and notice signs that the child may wander off before it happens
  • keep identification on the child, such as an ID bracelet or card
  • secure homes with locks
  • teach safety skills to the child

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