Almost half of all children with autism wander away at one time in their lives, whether it's from home, school, or the homes of friends or relatives. Since April, 13 or more children with autism have wandered away from their homes or other safe environments, and some have died.
Unfortunately, these children are attracted to water, roadways, and moving vehicles such as trains. The most common cause of death is drowning. Because they are nonverbal or have communication issues, finding them becomes even more difficult.
Bob Lowery, senior executive director of the missing children division for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and an experienced law enforcement officer, tells the advocacy organization Autism Speaks how parents and other caregivers can best deal with wandering.
1. Know the bodies of water the child knows about. Between 2009 and 2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91 percent of total deaths reported in children with autism, ages 14 and younger, who went missing.
2. Talk to those who are closest to your child. The first people who can help find your child, such as neighbors, friends, family, and anyone who might be near your child when he or she wanders away, are often the first people who can help find your child quickly. Tell them what the child is attracted to or afraid of.
Additionally, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has experienced former law enforcement officers who can provide technical assistance to local law enforcement officers, says Lowery. Called "Team Adam," these special officers can be immediately deployed. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also has downloadable resources for law enforcement agencies on dealing with missing children who have special needs.
(For more information on autism and wandering, contact AWAARE -- which stands for "Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education.")