In what has seemingly become an epidemic within the autism community, another child with autism has tragically drowned as a result of a wandering-related episode. Seven-year-old John Burton, Jr., from southeast Indiana, had just moved into a new neighborhood and disappeared while playing with the family dog. Burton’s mother noted that her son was unfamiliar with his new environment as they had just moved into their home the day earlier.
Search teams began looking for John soon after he disappeared and became increasingly alarmed when the boy’s dog returned home later in the afternoon, wet and alone. Burton’s body was discovered on Sunday in a nearby creek, one day after he went missing.
We have reported extensively on this site about the recent cases of autism-related deaths associated with wandering. With tragic incidents like these happening at a near-monthly rate, much more awareness and attention are needed for this out-of-control problem.
Some of the nation’s largest autism organizations have taken notice, and recently teamed up to form The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education (AWAARE) Collaboration. The group’s mission is to prevent wandering incidents and wandering-related deaths within the autism community through education, resources and awareness. They currently provide a free PDF wandering brochure, which can be downloaded at http://www.awaare.org/docs/wanderingbrochure.pdf.
Drowning has been cited as the leading cause of death for children and adults with autism, with a large majority of these incidents occurring during wandering episodes. Exposure deaths due to wandering have also been very problematic in recent years, most notably in the winter months. Here are a few recent cases that underscore just how serious this problem has become:
James Delorey – December, 2009. A seven-year-old boy with autism from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, went missing after following his dog into a wooded area. He was later found huddled in the fetal position in thick brush and snow less than a mile from his home. He was rushed to the hospital, but eventually passed away from severe hypothermia and exposure.
Mason Medlam – July, 2010. Five-year-old with autism who died of his injuries after being pulled from a small pond in a town outside of Witchita, Kansas. Medlam wandered from his home out of a partially opened window and had
been missing for more than a half-hour before being discovered.
Zachary Clark – August, 2010. A five-year-old boy with autism from Tucson, Arizona who was pulled from a golf course pond located less than a half-mile from his home. Despite efforts at CPR, Clark was pronounced dead shortly after being airlifted to a nearby hospital.
Nathan Kinderdine - August, 2010. A seven-year-old with autism from Ohio, wandered away from his class during a summer enrichment program at school. Kinderline was found by a custodian at the bottom of the school’s indoor swimming pool and although school nurses tried to revive him, he was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival to the hospital.
Skyler Wayne – October, 2010. An eight-year-old boy with autism who was found in an Idaho river three houses away from his home. Wayne was in the care of a babysitter at the time of the incident and was found in less than two feet of water.
Savannah Martin – February, 2011. A seven-year-old girl from Oklahoma who was found face-down in a chilly pond about 50 yards from her home. Her two-year-old brother was also found with her in the water, but was face-up and buoyed by the Styrofoam in a bicycle helmet he had been wearing. Despite the efforts by the girl’s mother to revive her, Savannah was later pronounced dead.
Jackson Kastner – March, 2011. Four-year-old who drowned in a Michigan river after wandering from his home. The river was located 300 yards from Kastner’s home and swept him away — he was later found a mile-and-a-half downstream. The boy was airlifted to a hospital but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Adam Benhamama– April, 2011. A three-year-old boy who is both non-verbal and deaf, disappeared during a game of hide-and-seek while his father briefly went inside the house they were visiting. Adam’s body was recovered almost one month later over one mile downstream from where he initially disappeared.
Blake Murrell – April, 2011. A four-year-old youngster from Oklahoma that was found deceased in a duck pond a short distance from his home. Despite an investigation for potential negligence, Murrell’s family was exonerated in what police describe as "an unfortunate accident."
John Burton, Jr. – June, 2011. Seven-year-old John had just moved into a new Indiana neighborhood and disappeared while playing with the family dog. A search was initiated when the dog returned home without John. Despite an intensive search, he was found the next day in a nearby creek.Our thoughts and prayers are with the Burton family during this difficult time and hopefully, this will be our last story on this topic for the foreseeable future.