An 8-year-old autistic boy, Joshua Robb, has been safely found after running away from school on Monday around 11:00 am. According to the Los Angeles Times, Joshua slipped through a fence at Grandview Elementary in Twin Peaks. At least one school staff member tried to run after him but was not able to. More than 60 sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers had spread out around Lake Arrowhead and the San Bernardino National Forest; they played Ozzy Osbourne’s “No More Tears” and Alan Jackson’s “Good Time,” two of Joshua’s favorite songs.
Joshua’s father, Ron Robb, stayed with the searchers for much of the time and, at one point, called out “Bubby, Bubby, come out and find Daddy, we are looking for you, Bub.” He then went back to the command post, and, as he recounted, “not long after that, they found him,” he said. “The boy is not leaving our sight after this.”
I know any parent, my husband and myself for sure, would say the same after their child was missing for over 24 hours, in hard rain, lightning and cold weather and wearing only shorts and sandals (rescuers found Joshua’s shirt on a log shortly before finding him). His father’s words resonate even more because, just about a month ago, Joshua was taken from his parents, Robb and Patricia Calcott, by the San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services and placed with a teacher from the school:
The family had lost their home to foreclosure and, according to Robb, a real estate agent spotted Joshua tied to a post at the home with nylon rope and reported it to authorities.
“Look, he’s a flight risk, always,” Robb said of his son, adding that the autism causes Joshua to run from his caregivers and that he had been tied to the post “for his own safety” as the family was packing up.
“We tried to tell them, ‘He has autism, don’t do this,’ ” Robb said.
Robb said he and Calcott had been living at campgrounds in the area or with friends since moving out of the house. And both were angry that their son was left in a position where he could run away.
“He was looking for us,” Robb said of why Joshua ran away from the school.
Robb and Calcott had only seen Joshua once since he was taken from their custody.
After he was found, Joshua, who does not usually speak, said “”Thank you … you saved me.”
I don’t know all the details about Joshua and his parents, but I can attest to the reality of autistic children running away. My own 14-year-old son Charlie has done this as have the autistic children of more than a few families we know. We’ve heard teachers and experts give talks about how to prevent “elopement” and also how to teach a child what to do if he or is she is lost (for a start, you have to realize the child probably does not think he or she is lost; we have been teaching Charlie to carry an ID card in a wallet). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that “wandering” will be classified as a medical diagnosis and some families have found tracking devices to be helpful. The Interactive Autism Network has more information in its†Research Report: Elopement and Wandering.
The Los Angeles Times says that Joshua was airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center and is in good medical condition. It’s not clear where he will reside after he leaves the hospital. The San Bernardino Department of Child Support Services should at least review his case to see if it’s really in the best interest of everyone for him not to be living with his parents. It doesn’t seem that the school knows what to do to keep him safe.
I don’t know Joshua or his parents but my gut reaction is what Robb says: “He was looking for us.”
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Photo of San Bernardino National Forest by tracie7779