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PLoS One. 2016 Feb 4;11(2):e0148337. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148337. eCollection 2016.

Prevalence and Correlates of Elopement in a Nationally Representative Sample of Children with Developmental Disabilities in the United States.

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Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, New Hyde Park, New York, United States of America.


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.

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