Autism & Wandering: A Heartbreaking Start to July

July 14, 2017

by Lori McIlwain, National Autism Organization

Wandering deaths in the autism community have significantly increased in recent years, but the last ten days alone have been especially heartbreaking.

It began last Monday when, according to media reports, a four-year-old girl with autism slipped away from her home in Florida, climbed a fence, and entered a neighbor’s pool. Her body was found that evening.

The following day, Tuesday, a teen with autism wandered from his home in Rhode Island and was struck by a vehicle, critically injuring him.

By Wednesday, an overnight search began in Colorado for a missing 13-year-old with autism who wandered from his home — he was thankfully found safe.

Then on Thursday, an adult with autism, who left his residential home in California and was killed by multiple vehicles, was identified. Police did not understand he had autism and that he could not comply with their instructions.

By Friday, an eight-year-old boy with autism from Kentucky went missing during a visit in Indiana, sparking a massive search. On Saturday, his body was found in a nearby pond.

On Sunday, a seven-year-old boy in Florida drowned after he slipped out of his home through a side door. He was found facedown in a neighbor’s pool.

On Monday, a five-year-old boy with autism in Rhode Island was rescued from a river by police after he left his home in the early morning hours.

Yesterday, a massive search began for an 11-year-old boy with autism czxvzvclvzlxcvin Georgia after he wandered away from his home.

This morning, his body was found in a nearby pond.

Nearly half of all children with autism wander or elope from safe settings, such as home, schools, and residential facilities. And according to a recent study from the National Autism Association, accidental drowning remains the leading cause of wandering-related deaths in the autism community and occurs under every type of supervision.

What’s more, that same study showed a disproportionate risk among African American individuals with autism. Three of the four children who drowned over the last ten days were African American.

We can all help by making families aware and sharing resources. This quick tips sheet is a good start, but families can also apply for a free Big Red Safety Box from NAA, which includes door alarms, MedicAlert ID, and other tools, including a booklet with in-depth tips about home security and swimming lessons, etc., as well as prevention strategies.

We can also contact our lawmakers and ask them to support legislation that works to reduce wandering-related deaths by providing training to first responders and resources to families.
Wandering remains an urgent issue in the autism community. Please help us spread the word and share critical information with families.