Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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Wandering kids a difficult challenge for parents

Back in May, our Healthy Living section ran a story headlined: “Kids With Autism Prone to Wandering.”

It began: “Half of children with autism are prone to wandering, sometimes for hours — a dangerous behavior pattern that can start before kindergarten…”

The story went on to discuss a first-of-its-kind survey that asked parents of children on the autism spectrum to answer questions about whether their kids run off. “Half of the respondents reported their children not only have wandered from home but were gone long enough to raise alarm.”

I know that Robert Wood Jr., the Caroline County boy with autism who has been missing since he disappeared in North Anna Battlefield Park on Sunday, is on the minds of many if not all readers. And I know the behavior and tendencies  of children with autism can be mystifying, especially to those who have not spend time around kids on the spectrum.

As many wise people have said, when you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism — no two people are ever the same. But I thought I’d share some insight into the habit of wandering among people with autism — a tendency so well-known that it even has a medical code (ICD-9, effective Oct. 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

In its explanation of the code, the CDC said: “Children and adults with ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) and other developmental disabilities are at higher risk of wandering off than are children and adults without these disorders or other cognitive disorders.”

Even more information about wandering is available on the website of the Interactive Autism Network (, a project of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Maryland. The network is designed to facilitate research that will lead to better knowledge about autism spectrum disorders; one piece of that research involved the survey asking parents about wandering — which is also referred to as “elopement.”

More than 850 parents participated in the survey, and their answers demonstrated (according to the survey’s conclusion) that wandering children “encounter significant dangers; and that families of [wanderers] are often stressed and socially isolated.”

“Clearly, it is crucial that we develop supports and interventions for families coping with elopement behaviors in a child with ASD, and provide information to those community professionals who may receive appeals for help.”

My colleague Amy Umble wrote a story the other day about a device that can help find people who have wandered off; you can read it here:

And CNN ran an informative piece in April that you can read here: