case of Adam Benhamma continues to highlight the ongoing issue of
wandering by those with autism. In fact, 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 to elements has also been responsible for many autism-wandering deaths.
The issue has become so problematic, some of the largest autism non-profits in the country have partnered 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. The organizations that comprise AWAARE include Autism One, Autism Speaks, Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation, Hollyrod Foundation, National Autism Association and Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).
In addition to awareness and education, technology is also being implemented to address this widespread problem. Products from LoJack, SecuraTrac and Project Lifesaver all offer solutions for parents and caregivers to track and locate those with autism.
Despite these efforts, it’s clear that much more needs to be done to address the recent slew of tragic wandering cases. Just a few of those include:
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 Benhamma – April, 2011. A three-year-old boy who is both non-verbal and deaf has been missing since Sunday. Benhamma disappeared during a game of hide-and-seek while his father briefly went inside the house they were visiting. Police believe the boy fell into a nearby icy river. As of today’s date, he has not been found and is presumed to be deceased.
These are just a few of the many heartbreaking stories that continue to play out around the country and world involving wandering individuals with autism. As we continue on with Autism Awareness Month, hopefully more attention will be brought to this problematic issue to ensure wandering-related deaths are minimized or completely eliminated altogether.
To download a copy of a helpful autism wandering brochure from AWAARE, visit: http://www.awaare.org/docs/wanderingbrochure.pdf (Adobe Reader Required)