Among other symptoms, ASD is characterised by deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.
"The kids who are most likely to wander are the kids who are least likely to respond appropriately to police or rescue personnel - potentially further jeopardising their safety;" senior investigator of the study Andrew Adesman from Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York.
"First responders need to recognise that children or young adults with an autism spectrum disorder may over-react to some well-intentioned interventions and may be unresponsive to simple commands or questions," Mr Adesman noted.
Using data from a 2011 US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention survey of parents and guardians of more than 4,000 children aged six to 17 with special health care needs, researchers divided the children into three groups: those with ASD only, ASD with intellectual disability (ID) and/or developmental delay (DD), and just ID and/or DD.
Researchers found that children with ASD (with or without associated cognitive delays) were more likely to wander off than children with cognitive impairment but no ASD.
Across all groups, wanderers were more likely to not realise when they are in danger, to have difficulty distinguishing between strangers and familiar people, to show sudden mood changes, to over-react to situations and people, to get angry quickly, and to panic in new situations or if change occurs, the study said.
The findings appeared online in the journal PLOS ONE.
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