2022 – Summer immigration risks increase

It happens quickly: an autistic child escapes supervision and disappears – an emergency condition called “autism runaway.” While any child can migrate, children with autism are at particular risk. These include the lure of water and the risk of drowning.

Some young people on the spectrum will follow this strong attraction to water and head to a nearby pond, river, or pond. Such conditions made drowning one of the main causes of death for these missing youths.

Autism can happen at any time. Summer can be especially dangerous. As the weather warms, the risk of drowning increases, says Laurie McElwain, co-founder of the National Autism Society.

“The risk of death is higher in May, June and July when a child leaves the area unnoticed, especially if there is an outdoor pool and then they go straight into the water,” McKelwin says. For example, she says kids can run away at outdoor play, barbecues, gatherings, and other activities. Or they might wander while on vacation near the beach or hotel pool.

autism escape

Many people are unaware of this risk, including some families with young adults on the autism spectrum. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is working to change that — and find solutions.

About 12 years ago, “we started noticing a very disturbing trend of missing children with autism with serious consequences,” says John Bischoff, vice president of the center’s Missing Children Division.

The center analyzed a decade of data on accidental deaths of children on the autism spectrum. Drowning was the most common cause, responsible for 84% of these deaths.

In 2012, researchers reported autism and wanderlust in the Journal of Pediatrics. They analyzed the responses of nearly 1,000 households to an online survey on the topic. Parents who had children on the spectrum and children who were not on the spectrum responded. Nearly half of the parents said their child with autism had tried to leave after age 4, and 26% had gone long enough to be a cause for concern.

Of the missing, 24% were at risk of drowning and 65% were at risk of traffic injury, the researchers wrote. Children on the spectrum may also be attracted to road signs, highways, fire engines, and trains.

In comparison, brothers and sisters of all ages who were not on the spectrum were less likely to migrate.

I’m looking for a quiet place

It’s not entirely clear why children with autism are so drawn to water, says McKelwin. But there are some clues.

“What we’re seeing is that these kids are leaving environments that would normally be noisy,” McKelwin says. “[Those settings are] Loud, with a great deal of stimuli, tension or excitement, and they go somewhere quiet, usually the water in a quiet area. It is quiet. It is peaceful. “

Water is not the only serious attraction. When autism flares up, “they go into the woods too, they go to abandoned vehicles,” she says. “So there’s usually something quiet where they go.”

family loss

Beth Dillig, a mom in Maryland, lost her 7-year-old daughter, Savannah Martin, who was on the autism spectrum, to drowning in 2011. Dell had lived in Oklahoma and raised her three children alone after her separation from her husband. On a cold February day, Savannah and her 2-year-old brother left their home after Dale asked her 11-year-old son to keep an eye on her as she went to the bathroom for a few minutes.

Noting that the two younger children had left, Deleg frantically searched the property. She called Savannah’s name repeatedly, but the child, whose language skills were limited, did not turn up when he called. “I have a feeling she knows her name, but it wasn’t like you were calling her and she would come to you,” Deleg says.

Deleg ran into a pool near her property after her 11-year-old son said the two brothers were in the water. Dale got into the water and grabbed her baby boy who had escaped from his bike helmet. But by the time Dilg reached Savannah, she was already unresponsive. A neighbor helped get the children out.

It can happen in any family. Even if a parent takes precautions, a child can explode in an instant, perhaps while the parent is sleeping or meeting personal needs, or when the child is at school or elsewhere.

“It’s unrealistic to say you won’t take your eyes off your child,” Delge says.

She tried to protect Savannah by teaching her swimming lessons, putting long locks on doors, and trying to teach her how to behave safely.

However, kids can be pretty adept at finding escape routes, Deleg says. “These children with autism are very intelligent. They may not be verbal, but they do have this level of intelligence.” “You always have to be one step ahead of them.”

Dilg is a long-time volunteer with Team HOPE, the peer support group at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Offers emotional support to parents whose children have lost or died, including parents of children with autism who have drowned.

First aid training

When a child with autism goes missing, their condition can make finding them even more difficult. For example, some children cannot speak or respond when their name is called by researchers. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provides law enforcement training and provides search records for first responders.

The center drew on the expertise of Laurie Reyes, an officer with the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland. In 2005, Reyes created a special unit within the department to focus on the safety of people at risk from hiking. They have conditions such as autism/intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

“We have a culture of awareness here,” says Reyes. All recruits and officers in Montgomery County receive training in how to deal with people on the autism spectrum who may not respond to police orders. Police are also learning how to search, including checking bodies of water on the spot. “We’ve been through a few times where we’ve found individuals in bodies of water,” Reyes says.

Don’t wait to call 911. When a child goes missing, time is of the essence. Reyes advises families not to search alone. “Call 911 immediately,” she says.

Top safety tips to prevent autism from fleeing

Use these tips to keep children on the autism spectrum safe and prevent drowning.

Your home security. Use window and door alarms to alert you when a door or window is open. “These alarms are essential,” McElwain says.

You can buy alarms online or get them for free from the National Autism Association through the Big Red Safety Box Program.

You can also purchase portable travel door alarms and set up door alarms at your child’s school.

McIlwain recommends securing the home with proper locks and the use of baby monitors. Applying visual prompts, such as a stop sign on the door, for example, can encourage a child not to leave.

Use the ID card. McKelwin says children with autism should wear an identification bracelet that includes their name, autism diagnosis, and a contact’s name and phone number.

If kids don’t wear bracelets, shoelace badges are an option, she says. However, parents should be aware that children may walk barefoot or remove them before entering the water.

Parents can also weigh the pros and cons of using trackers and GPS, says McKelwin.

Determine stimuli. “What will make the child leave the environment? Is it noise, is it a specific thing they hear?” “There is always a reason.”

For example, if parents can identify specific stimuli, they can use soothing techniques or provide headphones to counteract disturbing noises.

Teach safety skills such as swimming lessons. Swimming lessons are important, says McKelwin. However, children with autism are often disturbed by noise and excitement. Therefore, regular swimming lessons may not work with them.

Instead, McIlwain encourages parents to ask the local YMCA about special needs swimming lessons or search online for such classes. Giving the child some private swimming lessons “with someone who understands autism” is often best.

McKelwin says that for a child’s last lesson, he should swim fully clothed and with shoes on. “A lot of our kids go straight into the water fully dressed and just need to get comfortable with the feel, weight, and ability to swim that way.”

If a child is attracted to water, discuss a specific time until the child can wait, says McKelwin. “You can see that they will get this water time. You will be able to go to this place. They will wait instead of trying to go alone.”

Watch closely and stick together. “When there’s a family reunion or an outdoor barbecue, we often think there are more adults here, so all the kids will have more eyes. It always ends up being the other way around, right?” McKelwin says.

Be specific about who monitors a child’s safety.

“We encourage parents to play a game of ‘Tag, it’s you’ with each other. So you are basically tagging an adult who is responsible for monitoring that child for a while so that they are always supervised.”

be ready

There are a few things you can do now to be prepared in case your child slips. These actions can help find the child quickly.

Take pictures today. Record the entire body and head of your child and store them electronically. If your child runs away, you can immediately send the photos to law enforcement to help them find them.

Type 911 text. Keep this document on hand in case your child migrates. Among other things, it describes the sights that might attract your child and the locations of nearby bodies of water. By writing everything down, you can quickly share information with first responders. The Montgomery County Police Department has a Wandering 911 Script that you can download and use.