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Dangerous Wandering a Lesser Known Side of Autism
Date:3/24/2011

encouraging a change to the diagnostic codes used by doctors when they submit insurance claims to include "Autism-Spectrum Disorder-related wandering/elopement behavior." (Elopement in this context means unexpectedly running away.

The change to the diagnostic code would also help researchers in determining how prevalent the problem is. To that end, the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore is also launching a survey on wandering soon.

One thing that would help the families of autistic children is for friends and neighbors to understand the difficulties of keeping track of a child who wanders, Dawson said, while responders such as police need to understand that an autistic person may not respond to their name, or may run away if approached.

"If you were lost, you would be thinking, 'I'm lost, scared, hungry and tired. You hear somebody calling your name, and of course you're going to say 'I'm over here'," Christiaanse said. "But the autistic person? Not necessarily, even if they want to be found."

More information

The National Autism Association has a safety toolkit on autism and wandering.

SOURCES: Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer, Autism Speaks, New York City; Carol Christiaanse, Westport, Conn.; Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee testimony, Oct. 22, 2010, Bethesda, Md.


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