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Wandering Facts

Wandering Defined – When a person, who requires some level of supervision to be safe, leaves a supervised, safe space and/or the care of a responsible person and is exposed to potential dangers such as traffic, open water (drowning), falling from a high place, weather (hypothermia, heat stroke, dehydration) or unintended encounters with potentially predatory strangers.

Wandering is also referred to as: Elopement; Bolting; Running (i.e. “My child is a runner.”). There are different types of wandering, including:

  • Goal–Directed Wandering: wandering with the purpose of getting to something (water, train tracks, park, an item or place of obsession, etc.)
  • Bolting/Fleeing: the act of suddenly running or bolting, usually to quickly get away from something, a negative reaction to an event, anxiety, fear, excitement, stress or uncomfortable sensory input.
  • Other: nighttime wandering; wandering due to disorientation, boredom, transition or confusion; or individual simply becomes lost.

Is Wandering Common?

Yes. Roughly half of children with autism exhibit wandering behaviors and over half of seniors with dementia do as well.  Additionally, 1 in 59 children have an autism diagnosis and about 1 in 10 of seniors (ages 65 and over) have an Alzheimer’s/Dementia diagnosis.

The graphic below highlights the top places where individuals with autism were located and highlights how water is a high risk factor. The graph is from a study performed by the National Autism Association on 808 missing persons cases in the US that involved autistic individuals that were missing long enough to necessitate a police report or cases involved media. Data is from 2011 to 2016.