The parents of autistic children face a wide variety of challenges every day. Depending on where their child falls on the autism scale, they may deal with communication problems, inappropriate social interactions, learning disabilities, and compulsive behaviors. But one of the most frightening is wandering. Research reveals that almost half of the autistic children in the U.S. engage in wandering, which is terrifying for the parents, and dangerous for the child. But just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, someone makes an accusation of neglect.
Parents with autistic children who wander all face the sad reality that they are likely to be accused of neglect. But when you look at the numbers, accusations of neglectful parenting just don’t make sense. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 88 children in the U.S. are affected by autism. This means that more than 1 million children around the US suffer from autism, half of whom are prone to wandering, or “bolting” as it is sometimes called.
While there have certainly been isolated instances of parents who were neglectful of their autistic children, it is simply not viable to believe that half of all autistic children have neglectful parents. Yet, that’s how many parents of autistic children are viewed when their kids wander away from their caregivers. So what can be done to help with this problem?
One of the most effective means of dealing with these situations is education. An educated law enforcement will understand that this is not parental neglect, so they will work to reunite lost autistic “wanderers” with their frantic parents. An educated legal system will understand that criminal charges cannot make human parents who are trying their best, into perfect robots who never sleep and have no personal needs. An educated public will understand that blame and shame will not cure autism, and will not help the parents of autistic children to keep their kids safe.
The National Center for Missing and Endangered Children posted this information on their website recently: “Children with autism often have an extremely high attraction to water. Because of this we strongly recommend first responders and search teams immediately check all nearby bodies of water in an effort to head-off the child. These bodies of water include but are not limited to streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, creeks, storm-water retention/detention basins and swimming pools.”
We have only to look at the recent drowning deaths of autistic children in Michigan to know that this is a very real issue. 9-year-old Omarion Humphrey wandered away from his foster family at Lake Callis in July of 2015, and drowned. In July of 2016, 7-year-old Izayah Michael Roy Pedrin drowned in K.I. Sawyer’s Little Trout Lake. In between those two tragedies, only one year apart, numerous other autistic children died as a direct result of wandering.
Thankfully, awareness is growing. There are a number of groups and organisations whose sole purpose is educating parents and professionals who deal with autistic children, first responders, and agencies that handle missing children cases.
Join us next time as we wrap up this series on autism and wandering, and look at what is being done, across the nation, to change the way we look at autism, and the parents of autistic children.