Children with autism are four times more likely to wander than their typically developing siblings, making the behavior among the most stressful for parents caring for kids with the developmental disorder.

The findings are from a survey of more than 1,200 families of kids with autism published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics. The conclusions largely confirm preliminary results that were first released last year.

Researchers found that 49 percent of children with autism ran off at least once after age 4. About half of those who bolted were gone long enough to be considered “missing.”

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In the vast majority of cases, kids left their home or someone else’s and had a specific destination or activity in mind. But the reasons for wandering varied, with kids diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome more likely to be feeling anxious while those with an autism label were often described as happy, playful or exhilarated when they bolted, researchers found.

Regardless of the reason, elopement was stressful and dangerous, parents indicated. Missing children experienced close calls with traffic injuries in 65 percent of cases. And, 24 percent of missing kids found themselves at risk of drowning, the research indicated.

As a result, more than half of parents surveyed said that wandering was among the most stressful behaviors they encounter in caring for a child with autism. Similarly, half of moms and dads said they had no guidance from anyone about how to deal with the issue.

“Parents often fear being viewed as neglectful when their children leave from safe places. This study demonstrates that we urgently need interventions to address elopement and provide support to affected families,” said Paul Law, senior author of the study and director of the Interactive Autism Network, or IAN, a national autism registry at the Kennedy Krieger Institute which collected the data.

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