Prevalence and correlates of elopement in a nationally representative sample of children with developmental disabilities in the United States.


Despite increased awareness and concern about children with developmental disabilities wandering away from adult supervision, there is a paucity of research about elopement. This is the first study to examine and report the prevalence and correlates of elopement in a nationally representative sample of school-age children in the United States with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or cognitive impairment. Data were obtained from the CDC’s ‘Pathways’ Survey, a follow-up telephone survey of the parents of 4,032 children with a developmental condition. 3,518 children that had ASD, intellectual disability (ID), and/or developmental delay (DD) at the time of survey administration were included for analysis. Children were divided into three condition groups: ASD-only; ID/DD-only; ASD+ID/DD. Logistic regression analyses were used to compare the prevalence of elopement and rates of preventive measure use (barriers and/or electronic devices) across condition groups, and to examine the clinical and demographic correlates of elopement. T-tests were also performed to compare scores on the Children’s Social Behavior Questionnaire (CSBQ) between wanderers and non-wanderers. Overall, 26.7%of children had reportedly eloped within the previous year, most commonly from public places. Children with ASD-only and ASD+ID/DD were more likely to have eloped than those with ID/DD-only. Across all groups, wanderers scored higher than non-wanderers on five out of six CSBQ subscales; they were more likely not to realize when there is danger, to have difficulty distinguishing between strangers and familiar people, to show sudden mood changes, to over-react to everything/ everyone, to get angry quickly, to get lost easily, and to panic in new situations or if change occurs. Even after controlling for elopement history, parents of children in the ASD+ID/DD group were more likely than those in the other condition groups to report using physical or electronic measures to prevent wandering.