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Arrested: Parents of Autistic Child Found Wandering

Arrested: Parents of Autistic Child Found Wandering

The parents of a 4-year-old autistic boy who was found wandering were arrested on Tuesday on charges of injury to a child. On September 15, police had responded to a report of a missing child in in Plainfield, Connecticut; the child had, said police, left home without his parents noticing. Neighbors found Curtis and Jennifer Youngdahl’s son wandering and barefoot near their residence. The Youngdahls turned themselves in on Tuesday after learning of a warrant for their arrest and are to appear in Danielson Superior Court on November 14.

I don’t know more of the details about the Youngdahls and their son beyond some news reports. Reports of autistic children wandering are not at all uncommon. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that “wandering” will be classified as a medical diagnosis for autistic children. The director of AutismNJ once noted to me that one of the problems of autistic children wandering and being lost is that, from their perspective, they’re not lost. They know where they are; the problem is, it very likely does not occur to an autistic child to communicate to someone that they want to go off somewhere. How do you teach someone that they are lost if that concept just doesn’t make sense to them?

Teaching my 14-year-old son Charlie to wear and present ID is actually part of his school curriculum. He has wandered and we have had to contact New Jersey police who, happily, have responded by making every effort (three squad cars and a police dog) to locate Charlie (he was found in under an hour). Just last Friday, 8-year-old Robert Wood, who is also autistic, was found after being missing since Sunday in the 80-acre North Anna Battlefield Park in Doswell, Virginia, near Richmond.

Robert remains hospitalized while doctors try to repair a hole in his esophagus. He is non-verbal and not able to explain what happened, but it is thought that he may have tried to eat, or actually eaten, something that made the hole. Some other reports of autistic children who have gone missing end in tragedy: 10-year-old Kristina Vlassenko was found in a water-filled hole at a construction site in Arvada, Colorado. She was wearing a LifeTrak device which apparently did not work because it was submerged in water.

In another case, an 8-year-old autistic girl, Ayn Van Dyke, was taken back in June by Child Protective Services of British Columbia for reasons of “safety.” A few days before she was taken, she had been found playing in a neighbor’s backyard. Her father, Derek Hoare, has dedicated all of his efforts to working round the clock to get her home.

Other parents beside the Youngdahls have faced legal charges after a child was found wandering. In Aurora, Colorado, an 11-year-old autistic boy, Brandon Wells, was missing for several hours in June of this year. 9 News says that he was wearing a Life Trak device, but the battery was dead and his parents face charges for not charging it; his parents had already faced similar charges. There are cases of parent negligence but — perhaps one reason I find the issue of wandering to be a very delicate topic — there are also cases of parents doing everything they can and still discovering that their child has wandered. Could the Connecticut case set a dangerous precedent or will it be seen a very specific case?


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12:26AM PDT on Nov 6, 2011

Shan D

A very sad story.

I looked after my father for 2 years until 3 weeks before his death, when it became too much for me. Social Services were constantly trying to get him into a home, but I used to be a social worker and could fend off their tricks. It would've been cheaper for them to put him away as the charge would've come from his house, but the auxiliary carers they provided did not. In the end, the care was given free for those last 3 weeks as he was deemed a "nursing" case.

The whole system sucks and needs rethinking.

5:47PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

As for paying for it? Well, the government took the house my father and I were living in. And they didn't give a damn where I was going to live, just as long as I left, preferably with a bag or two of my own belongings, and minus my cats (since they figured it would be too hard for me to find a place that would take them). I fought this for two years, until I made them understand that they couldn't just throw my cats and me out into the street. I found a place to live that would take cats, and I keep fighting the government for everything that my father and I are entitled to have, or to know.

Oh, and btw... I live in the province of Alberta, Canada, where universal health care is a myth and if you live below the poverty line, the government does its best to treat you like dirt.

(why doesn't Care2 let us know how many characters we have left?)

5:45PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

"Do people really have a choice as to whether or not to keep someone with autism or dementia at home? What if someone cannot afford residential care for his or her relative?"

If you are rich and can afford to hire help? Probably. In my case (my father was diagnosed with dementia), the government told me that I was unsuitable to care for my father, as he MIGHT wander away. So they stuck him in a nursing home in a small town, in the middle of nowhere... where nobody knew him (unlike at home, where EVERYBODY knew him), and he kept saying he wanted to go home, and why couldn't he just go home, and he'd just start out walking some day... I told the staff I was worried about him simply walking out the door one day and taking off down the highway or even out into the bush. The staff pooh-poohed my worries. Eventually I got the government to place him in a nursing home in my own city, so at least I can visit him and he's not out in the middle of nowhere.

As for paying for it? Well, the government took the house my father and I were living in. And they didn't give a damn where I was going to live, just as long as I left, preferably with a bag or two of my own belongings, and minus my cats (since they figured it would be too hard for me to find a place that would take them). I fought this for two years, until I made them understand that they couldn't just throw my cats and me out into the street. I found a place to live that would take cats, and I keep fighting the government for

5:43PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

Heaping abuse on parents is not the way to help children. Wandering is a medical symptom. Arrest parents for their child's fever? headache? sports injury? We need to learn some lessons from the Occupy Wall Street folks about getting along and cooperating. Children need adults who are mature and supportive.

3:18PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

The parents weren't "wandering" - the autistic child was. Confusing title.

12:15PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

As far as finding the child goes people can praise who they want but hard work and long hours are what did it.

What i am having trouble finding is a reference that the parents had not noticed him gone by the time he was returned. For a child to wander a parent obviously did not notice him go (this happens often within an autistic home. It could be various reasons, the child is playing quietly and so no one notices the lack of noise or just slips out while parent is dealing with another child.) All a parent can do is step up the security, new locks, different locks if the child learns to disable the ones you have etc. But to not realize within 10 to 15 mins that the child is missing is not good (unless of course it is nap time and the child left through a bedroom window)

there are always sides to every story no one knows but i am not certain at this point there is enough information to justify the removal, unfortunately given the tendancies over here of removals without cause, we must assume without evidence to the contrary that the removal was not justified. We have no choice, to do otherwise over here is to bury your head in the sand

12:01PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

One thing I should like to add is that it may be the case that an autism expert would not normally advocate removal. But based on the scanty evidence in the article as well as the position that we are in inasmuch as we do not know any background to most of the cases mentioned, my position has been that we should not condemn CPS for having removed children without us knowing all of the facts and background. However, I do still maintain that a set of parents who do not even know that their child is gone is certainly a case that needs investigating. And I am still extremely suspicious of the 5 day disappearance case. Heat sensors, in my view, are far more sensitive than you are giving them credit for and an abduction and dumping cannot be ruled out. Lastly, I hope that you agree that the nonsense about the holy spirit having found this child is just that, nonsense.

11:55AM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

I do see that john which is why i want to see what present action is over there.

11:55AM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

Care of most autistics is routine based and incredibly repetitious. There are few accepted treatments for autism the most accepted being ABA or IBI therapy, drugs have proven ineffective in long term care, however that is what was done in Ayn's case.

The reason why we are able to discuss the Ayn case in such detail is the family of the father involved in this case opened a facebook site to try to get this overturned. What we have found out since this site has opened is that in several provinces in canada as well as some US states, it is quite common for autistic children to be removed only to be later ordered by the judge to be returned. The problem is that over the period till the hearing it has run as much as 4 years and in some cases more. This means the child is often coming back from care after an extended period away with their therapy being replaced by meds and parents often having to start almost from square one to attempt to get the child back on a track to as close to normal a life as the child can get.

11:53AM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

Thank you Carl. You will have noted, I hope, that I stated quite specifically that I have not worked in SS for many years.

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