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Study: Autistic children prone to wander away

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A new study has shown the alarming result that children with autism are prone to wandering. In fact, more than half of autistic kids will wander away from parents and guardians into potentially unsafe situations.

Parents dealing with autism say these findings are all too real.

"It's something we constantly work to prevent," said Michelle Outman. Outman is the mother of two adopted twins diagnosed with autism, Phisher and Phelix.

According to a new study, almost half of children with autism will wander away from safety. Most of those children will end up missing for an average of 41 minutes. Of those, 65 percent had a close call with traffic, another 24 percent were in danger of drowning.

"They open doors and leave the house and they don't understand that it's not safe. They don't worry about cars or getting lost," said Outman. "They don't have that fear most kids are born with. It's not that they are misbehaving or that they don't want to stay close, they literally don't understand."  

That's why she and therapist Rachel Poe designed stop-sign door hangers for every door of their home.

"They are very smart children, so they figured out how to manipulate all the locks," said Outman. "We actually had to teach them to go and ask a responsible adult if they could go outside. So, the signs have pictures of responsible people in our house they can go and ask."  

According to the study, "flight risk," as it's known to parents, is very real for kids with autism.

Published in Pediatrics, the study finds almost 49 percent of children with autism will wander away from safety. The study focused on 1200 children.

Therapists who work with the Outman twins say the study's finding makes public awareness that much more important. Poe says friends and neighbors need to know if they see the child alone, it's not okay.

"Children with autism think in the moment, so if they see a door open they are going to go outside," said Poe. "If you're just driving down the road and you feel something isn't right and you see a child, use your gut."

Findings from the study were used by the Centers for Disease Control in efforts to get preventative support services for autism. There's also a movement to create an Autism Alert warning system similar to an Amber Alert.

To help deal with flight risk, some families are turning to service dogs to keep their children with autism safe.

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