Autism & Wandering
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According to survey data published in the journal Pediatrics, nearly half of families reported their children with autism wandered or eloped from safe environments. Finding and safely recovering a missing child with autism presents unique and difficult challenges for families, law enforcement, first responders and search teams. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has special search protocols and checklists to help first responders.

Children with autism go missing under a variety of circumstances. They may seek out small or enclosed spaces. They may wander toward places of special interest to them. Or they may try to escape overwhelming stimuli such as sights, sounds, surroundings or activities of others. 

Risk Factors

Children with autism may exhibit interests that pose dangers such as:

  • Bodies of water
  • Roadways/highways
  • Trains
  • Heavy equipment
  • Fire trucks
  • Roadway signs
  • Bright lights
  • Traffic signals


Download NCMEC's "Autism Wandering Tips" to learn more about risk factors and get helpful information for families of children who may wander.

By the Numbers

In 2019, 354 children on the autism spectrum were reported missing to NCMEC. This is a 47% increase from 2018, in which 241 were reported missing to NCMEC.



In 2019, 56% of children on the autism spectrum reported missing to NCMEC were recovered within one day of being reported missing, and 77% were recovered within one week. 



In a 10-year analysis (2007-2016), NCMEC found that 43 missing children with autism were recovered deceased (4% of the total). In 72% of the cases, the manner of death was classified as accidental; such as drowning.


What NCMEC is Doing About it

Analyzing the Data to Better Understand the Issue

In ongoing efforts to better understand the unique needs and risks of children with autism, NCMEC's data analysts compile and study incidents of missing children with autism when they are reported to NCMEC.

Building Awareness Among Emergency Services and Communities

NCMEC has created resources to assist law enforcement, rescue services, and other community members in hosting Sensory Friendly Events to foster positive relationships with special needs children. Additionally, NCMEC provides guidance on implementing sound practices when dealing with cases involving children with special needs.



Did you know that 1 out of 54 children have Autism? You probably know someone with Autism. But you might not know that half of children with Autism wander away from safe places including homes and schools in your neighborhood.

To help raise awareness and save lives of children with autism, the Palm Beach County School District Police Department produced a roll-call video to distribute to law-enforcement agencies across the country. Watch "Autism: Points Of Light For First Responders"