According to survey data published in the journal Pediatrics, nearly half of families reported their children with autism wandered or eloped from safe environments. And more than a third of the children who wandered were unable to communicate their name and/or address. Finding and safely recovering a missing child with autism presents unique and difficult challenges for families, law enforcement, first responders and search teams. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has special search protocols and checklists to help first responders.
Children with autism go missing under a variety of circumstances. They may seek out small or enclosed spaces. They may wander toward places of special interest to them. Or they may try to escape overwhelming stimuli such as sights, sounds, surroundings or activities of others.
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.
OTHER DANGEROUS ATTRACTIONS
Children with autism may exhibit other interests that pose similar dangers such as:
When a child with autism goes missing, it is important to quickly identify any unique interests the child has and create a list of their favorite places. First responders should talk to anyone who knows the child well to ask for information about any interests, stimulations or obsessions the child may have. This information could provide key clues leading to a safe recovery.
As with all critically missing children, time is a vitally important factor in a safe recovery. Law enforcement agencies are encouraged to contact us at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) for additional assistance and resources, including search-and-rescue experts who immediately deploy to provide recommendations and technical assistance in cases of critically missing children.