An 11-year-old New Jersey boy who has Asperger’s Syndrome left his house in the middle of the night, went to a Target store, broke a window and entered on the night of April 24th. According to the Star-Ledger, the boy — who frequently goes to the store to look at DVDs with his parents — did not take anything. The Gloucestor Township police department has a YouTube channel and it was through this that that boy’s mother “identified him as a suspect.”
Police said that the parents were “embarrassed” and have “cooperated completely” with them. Target says that it is not planning to press any charges.
As the Star-Ledger notes, “Police said it was the first time You Tube was used to assist in a case.” The YouTube video of the boy in the Target store attracted 1,683 views over two days. From a recent check of the Gloucester Township Police’s YouTube channel, the video has been taken down.
A recently released study from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Maryland says that, of the 800 participants in the study, half of the parents report that their autistic children wander away. Among these families, 50% said that the children wandered far enough that they had serious concerns about their children’s safety.
While the study notes that the peak age for elopement is four, in our experience, wandering away has become a bigger problem now that my son is older. We are teaching him to carry ID (noting his name, our phone numbers, his diagnosis of autism — my son can say his name and phone number, but his speech is not always clear to strangers) but, as he is a teenager, he wants to be more independent; wants to do things, including go places, by himself. My son has a lot of needs and limitations (including his very minimal speech) that make such not possible without someone accompanying him.
Here’s what the IAN Research Report: Elopement and Wandering found:
Dangers of Elopement
The tendency of individuals with ASD to wander or “bolt” puts them at risk of trauma, injury or even death:
Effect of Wandering on Families
Resources, Support for Families
Motivations for Elopement
Despite speculation that summer is the peak season for elopement, 67% of parents of elopers said they saw no seasonal pattern at all; only 25% felt summer was the peak season. The top 5 reasons parents believed their children eloped included:
It’s important to remember that, when an autistic child is lost, he or she very likely does not think that he or she is lost — he or she knows quite well where he or she is. But of the course the child is lost — away from home and unaccompanied — and parents, educators, therapists, and police must take this reality into account.
There is nothing more frightening than not knowing where your child — a child with disabilities — is. I am just glad that the New Jersey boy is safe.
Photo by j.reed
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