If you read through this blog at all you’ll discover that the mission of A Child is Missing (ACIM) is to protect the people in society who are most vulnerable. At the top of the list of those most vulnerable are, of course, elderly adults and children. This organization’s long-standing original mission was to find lost children and we have now evolved past simply finding the lost and have moved on to championing the measures necessary to assist in locating lost people.
ACIM also identifies specific groups that merit further need. Those afflicted with autism are one of those groups. Did you know that 1 in 68 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Like many special needs children, autistic children are susceptible to accidents. For example, between 2009 and 2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91 percent total U.S. deaths reported in children and children with autism age 14-and-younger are subsequent to wandering.
Children with ASD might have average intelligence but they usually have little interest in other people, a limited verbal vocabulary, experience intense self-stimulatory behaviors such as hand-flapping, under-react to pain and over-react to sounds, have very good gross motor skills and have weaknesses in fine motor skills.
Those symptoms become more problematic when the autistic child is considered a “runner.” Wandering in autism is defined as: when a person who needs supervision to be safe and also as the act of a person leaving a safe space which exposes them to potential dangers. This may also be referred to as elopement, bolting, fleeing and running. Most of us understand the communication issues that arise when encountering autistic children so it’s understandable the anxiety that may exist when rescuing autistic children wander.
While many of us understand the obstacles to communicating with autistic people, it’s likely that many of us don’t know how to effectively reach out to people with this this disability. When seconds count in locating a lost person, this can result in a tragic hindrance if care is not taken.
Many autistic children are non-verbal or may only repeat what they hear. They may only use hand gestures to communicate and may be argumentative and stubborn. They could appear to be under the influence of drugs or walk pigeon-toed. They may not recognize danger and may be slow to recognize police vehicles or badges. To complicate matters, they are attracted to shiny objects such as badges, handcuffs and even guns.
Responses that are likely to connect with autistic people are slow movements, reassurance they will not be harmed, using as few words as possible and always remembering to look for medical ID bracelets or cards. One of the most important things to remember when communicating is that autistic people are sensitive so touching them, even to offer your hand, is probably not a good idea.
Knowing how to swiftly and effectively communicate with autistic children can be the difference between finding and losing a child. That is a difference ACIM wants to make!