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Groups Raise Awareness About Autism Wandering Incidents [AUDIO]

Amidst two high-profile cases of autistic teenagers wandering off, two organizations are banding together to raise awareness on the issue.

Flickr User Peretzpup

Last week, 19-year-old Michael Karwan, from Marlboro, went missing from his home, and in October, 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo wandered away from his New York City school.

In response, Autism Speaks and the Guardian Angel organization created a partnership Tuesday to address the growing instances of wandering amongst people with autism.

A recent study by the Interactive Autism Network, funded in-part by Autism Speaks, reported that 49 percent of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder are prone to wandering.

Liz Feld, President of Autism Speaks, says one of the things that is troubling when a person with autism wanders off, is they often do not comprehend danger.

“Things that other people would be afraid of, deep water, moving traffic, some enticing objects; they [people with autism spectrum disorder] don’t understand the danger inherent with running across the street or getting close to water,” Feld said.

Feld notes, in addition to not understanding danger, autistic individuals who wander off may find themselves with anxiety from the unfamiliar situation and could have trouble communicating in the circumstances. One-third of individuals who wander with autism may not be able to say their phone number, name, address.

She said the warning signs that an autistic person is lost include agitation, appearing out of their element, wandering, unable to communicating, or hiding. If a person does find an autistic person that has been reported missing, she instructs not to approach them, instead contact police.

“You should not engage someone who is autistic because they’ll get scared and bolt again,” Feld said. “So just stop, stay with the person, and stay with them until the police respond.”

Parents and family of autistic individuals are advised to take precautions. Feld says things like ID bracelets, door alarms that indicate when someone is leaving, as well as traditional locks can help safeguard against wandering.

She also stresses the importance of communication and education for the community and first responders. Feld points out, it’s especially vital to make the community aware of the needs and limitations of autistic individuals.

“To notify police that you have someone [who is autistic] there, so the response can be instantaneous.”

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