Autism, CPS and Wandering

Joshua Robb, an eight year old child with autism has been successfully rescued after running away from his elementary school and being lost in the San Bernardino National Forest for over 24-hours.

“Thank you … you saved me,” were the boy’s first words to rescuers — words made all the more poignant because he rarely speaks and his parents doubted his ability to appreciate his circumstance.

Those parents had lost custody of him to Child Protective Services (CPS) because they had tied him to a chair while they were in the process of moving from their recently foreclosed house. Apparently, they felt it the only way to guarantee that he would not run away in the confusion and chaos of packing and clearing out of their home.

While I in no way condone tying a child to a chair to prevent elopement, I also don’t condone CPS automatically removing children with autism from their families around issues of wandering. 

Ayn Hoare of Canada, the young child seized by that country’s version of CPS after she left her fenced yard and was subsequently found safe and sound still has not been returned to her father. Apparently, investigative reports of Ayn’s sometimes violent behavior at school led authorities to believe that she should be institutionalized and placed on anti-psychotic medication, then given to strangers.

Wandering has recently been given a diagnostic code in the recognition that it is a growing and legitimate problem. Instead of making parents vulnerable to losing their children, instances of elopement or misguided elopement prevention should bring families more needed services. Parenting classes on how to prevent elopement, tracking bracelets free of charge, respite care so that a stressed family can have a safe place for their child to be, particularly when confronting trauma such as a foreclosure, need to supplant criminalization of parents and the destruction of the child’s stability.

Obviously, even Joshua’s school couldn’t prevent him from going missing. Ripping a child with autism from their family, if that family is loving yet invariably imperfect, is no solution to the crisis of autism wandering. It sets off a tragic chain of events that takes months to unravel and trauma that may never fully heal.

13 Responses to Autism, CPS and Wandering

  1. tina says:

    I agree! This kiddo should be returned to his family immediately! HOWEVER, there are proper restraints and harnesses with a leash type runner, rifton chairs, and other products that this family could have and should have used! We wouldn’t allow an unruly child to be tied to a chair in an unsafe or inhumane way so we can’t allow it this time! I have an 8 year old non verbal auti and she’s ALWAYS within my sight even when I’m busy around the house or yard. Nothing, not even packing my foreclosed home would ever be put ahead of my kiddo!

  2. Susan says:

    I believe this family’s mistake was born of ignorance rather than ill intent. Until you wrote I didn’t know that these products existed.
    People need to know about them and have access to them regardless of cost. Thanks for writing!


  3. Susan says:

    I wasn’t familiar with the Rifton Chair, but a quick search showed it to be a chair with a restraining seat belt – definitively better than a rope and tree, especially if you set your child up with fun activities, and/or a snack (and never use it as punishment).

  4. Kendra Pettengill says:

    What is at issue here is the increasing insertion of CPS into people’s lives without adequate knowledge of what these families are dealing with and for simply disagreeing with how they do it. The thing that is strikingly clear is that they are never doing the least intrusive methods but taking first and asking questions later. When they realize they look bad, they are incapable of admitting mistakes but simply dig their heels in and attempt to justify their actions at any cost to the family. In this case we have the school admitting to tethering the child at school yet the parents lose their child for the same thing. I do believe there is a difference between a person holding a tether and attaching it to an immovable object but does that difference justify removal or simply an explanation to the family. We now know of removals for wandering, tethering, locking a child’s bedroom at night, refusing drugs, using the GFCF diet…what’s next? And, with the horrendous statistics of what happens to children in care (abuse, molestation, deaths), it better be more justified than this.

  5. Susan says:

    Wow. I didn’t know the child was tethered at school as well.

    Yes, CPS is virtually at war with autism families and this is a national/international crisis. Once they are involved in a case it’s a runaway train.


  6. Jennifer says:

    Have a child who’s a runner and you won’t sleep again. Our son was 18 months old and ran out of the room at night toward the front door. We had a teacher to our house providing therapy. He escaped in Santa Ana, CA helicopters and police were looking. All the neighbors came out. He climbed in the trunk of our neighbor’s car, after the back door was left open and he climbed in. He ripped out the wiring and flipped the gas switch on a Honda Accord. My husband saw a man closing a trunk and he almost got in a fight. We live everyday in fear and my son has LED (language expressive disorder). These kids are fast and the remember every detail, they never tire, and we moved to a 1 bedroom because I found our other place to ez for him to escape. We sleep in the living room and I know longer worry about him running by me and escaping. We have birthday parties and he prefers to climb the ladder to get on the house or cook things on the bbq, rather then go in the play bouncer.

    Why haven’t they put these parent’s in contact with CASA advocate, provide Autistic support group referrals, or had a proper eval done? The system is broken!

  7. Jennifer says:

    I just wanted to add I was upset reading this. CPS became involved with me after I lost my home. My husband and I seperated because we were both laid off and looking for work.

    He went to California with his family and I went to Portland with my Dad and brought our children. I was getting income and paying rent. I ended up in a shelter in Portland because my son has LED (language expressive disorder). It was VERY stressful for my dad because in his 3 bedroom house my son was a runner, explorer, and NEVER SAT DOWN. My Dad couldn’t chase him and I was in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy.

    So I ended up in a shelter. My son was 2 and escaped out there play area. He ran through an open storage door in the shelter off the “kitchen” area and they had to move a large fridge, he was laughing and hiding behind. He was playing a game, he is in his own world at that point. He wasn’t afraid.

    I was there a few days and had surprisingly arranged for a position working in California.

    I left earlier because I was afraid CPS was going to come after me after a case worker showed and requested I “voluntarily” open a case on myself. I refused to place my kids siting I had a job. I left and Amtrak worked with me to put my children in a room after they noticed my situation. It was amazing but we got to California and had a room with a lock, which helped me avoid him running away as he would’ve in a seat.

    I arrived in California and started paying for a therapist to come in our home, he escaped the therapist and I after a session. We started talking and he said he had to go to the bathroom. I sent him to the bathroom because his Dad was in the there. He never made it, he ran straight out the front door and jumped in our neighbors car and ran into the trunk portion. The rear seat were taken out! He pulled out the wiring and flipped a gas switch to a Honda Accord. The Orange County helicopter was looking for him and the police, the neighbors came out! The landlord arrived and found him after looking in cars!

    These kids run, I have no problem living in a small place anymore, he cannot venture too far! I know the fear these parents were feeling. Sometimes I have wanted to tether him as timeout is good when anyone can get him to just sit and look around. He is happy getting in trouble, or running out of class and locking himself in the school bathroom. The janitor had to get him out.

    This year he went main stream against the wishes of his Special Education teacher and I. The new teacher has already demanded help for us as he won’t even sit down in class. He gets bored and runs for the door. He needs to be moving and engaged always, or he’s a distraction. Get these parents some real help, assign a CASA ( or guardian ad litem, and get the parents the services they need.

  8. Susan says:

    Thanks for sharing your harrowing tale. So glad they didn’t take your child. It’s really a miracle.

    People are persecuted for being single parents and/or suffering economic hardship. I think there’s even more to the story in that “follow the money” way, just as our huge prison population provides free labor to big corporations, I’ve herd it said that there’s money in displacing children. I plan to research the issue and get some hard facts. Off the top of my head I know that medicating kids with anti-psychotics after they’ve been taken from their families is lucrative. Insurance reimbursements are greatest for these kind of drugs. They are big money makes for pharma.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Thank you Susan! I have had several conversations with CPS. After I had the therapists come to our home I had one more call and I freaked and gave the numbers to all 5 teachers that attended to my son every week. I didn’t even think to call them before giving out their cell numbers as I was in a panic. I told the worker she could come and investigate but that my son was nervous of new people and didn’t respond well to change in his routine. We’ve since gotten better on preparing him for vistors and letting him know that things will return to normal once the “disturbance” is gone. I was expecting them to come out but instead they had the teachers respond to them. There main concern was that I had “been” homeless. The case was closed and the worker never came out, but the supervisor for my son’s teachers informed me they’ve had an increase in investigations and contacts from CPS for other children so I assume its a sign of the times. My friend was also homeless in Portland. She had a place to live and a job but they refused to return him. Her son is now in permanent foster care and her other 2 children were adopted, several months later they were removed from the adoptive home after it was determined they were molested (and the evidence posted on the internet).

    Luckily I have done everything right, but since I grew up in foster care myself I know a lot about what they can and cannot do. I hope everyone in these hard times will take a moment to educate and protect yourself.

    If I was the CASA for this case I would look at what assistance has been provided. Where are the autistic support groups? Where is family education provided in this case? Housing assistance? Will the let the family rent a room or enter transitional housing? Will they allow them to move and transfer their case? I have so many questions and I’m sure many families like myself would gladly offer a hand in these hard times to help reunite this family. Its not like housing is ez after you have just been through foreclosure, many people cannot even rent an apartment like that.

  10. Susan says:

    My heart goes out to you. You sound like a magnificent advocate waiting for the means to share all you know.

    My impression is that CPS services have been axed, so only the punitive measures remain.

  11. Jscarclar says:

    If you are looking for a tracking braclet SafetyNet by LoJack team is offering a free SafetyNet bracelet and six months of service. This is a $300 value. The offer ends on October 15th. Just go to and enroll online. Or, call 1-877-4-FIND-THEM (1-877-434-6384).

  12. Susan Klein says:

    Elaine has a prospering business making child safety harnesses for special needs children and ADHD kids.

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