When a Child with Autism Goes Missing

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

Yesterday while scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw a story that had been shared by a few friends. Before clicking on the link, my heart already began to ache. Michael Kingsbury, a seven year old boy with autism, wandered from home and tragically his body was found in a car. It’s the kind of story that makes an autism parent pause. The story echoes familiarity and fear in so many parents, because when a child with autism goes missing, we realize how easily it could be our kid. When a child with autism goes missing, we hold our own kids a little bit closer and their hands a little bit tighter.

Back in May, ABC News featured an article about two children with autism who went missing on the same day“Nearly half of all children with autism will run away and potentially go missing at least once before their 17th birthday, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Of those who run away, what clinicians call “eloping,” many will be found dead.”

Like many kids with autism, my son, Norrin, is a wanderer, a bolter and he doesn’t always stop when I call his name. When outside Norrin’s hand needs to be held at all times. There’s no letting go and I watch him like a hawk especially when we’re in a crowded environment like the zoo, amusement park or stadium. We live in a two bedroom apartment and even walking out to the hallway to throw away the garbage makes me uneasy. Friends sometimes make fun of me, they tell me to relax and to “let Norrin be.” But these are the friends who don’t have kids with autism and they don’t understand my fear. Norrin is fast and he could be gone within seconds.

The tragedy of Michael Kingsbury is too painful for some parents to even read about and it’s a reminder of our children’s vulnerability. When Marj (of the Domestic Goddess) shared the Michael Kingsbury article, she wrote: “This hits a little too close to home…the last time Ian ran away he was found in someone’s car. I’m not over protective and hovering. I’m trying to keep [my son] alive.

And last year, “Nik’s Mom” of Maternal Instincts wrote about when her son wandered away from home and the fear she felt while searching for him. “Time simultaneously stands still —allowing all those possibilities to cross my mind—and accelerates; each moment he is missing feels like it’s been ten minutes long.”

So the next time you see a parent holding their child’s hand tightly, pushing their “too big” kid in a shopping cart or stroller and/or frantically following their kid around the playground – don’t assume they’re a helicopter parent. They are doing the best they can to keep their child safe and alive.


For more information regarding safety and special needs kids:

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  1. [...] When a child with autism goes missing (Parents.com) [...]

  2. by The Search For An Autistic Teen Continues | To The Max

    On October 16, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    [...] This isn’t the first time I’ve written about a missing child with autism and I wish I could say that Avonte will be the last. But according to a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Nearly half of all children with autism will run away and potentially go missing at least once before their 17th birthday.” Tragically, when a child with autism wanders away, they are usually found dead. [...]