Part two now, of our two part series on autism in Mid-Michigan.
This morning, we meet a group of people who are training first responders on how to recognize and assist a child with autism who has wandered off. Just a few weeks ago, a six-year old boy wandered out of his home and was found alone in a store. He was wearing only a diaper. The Lansing Township Police Department sent out an alert to the media to help find the boy's parents. What we didn't know then is just how common it is for a child with autism to wander off or "elope." A group of folks from Mid-Michigan are working to train agencies around the state in how to recognize and help these kids.
A fun family outing can turn to panic when Bambi Vanwoert's 8 year old son Ben takes off running. It happened twice in July, and Bambi had to call the Lansing Police Department to help find her son.
"When he was found his response to the officers was not typical, and his behaviors were escalating, and because of their training they knew exactly how to handle him," said Bambi VanWoert.
Ben is on the autism spectrum, and Bambi devotes most of her day to monitoring her son, but even the most vigilant parents often Need help finding their child. a 2012 study found that half of children with autism wander from safe environments. Some folks in Mid-Michigan are leading the way in educating law enforcement and the public about the behaviors.
"We would like all professionals to who are likely to interact with individuals on the spectrum to have to have a basic understanding of the nature of this disability and be able to interact in a way that is both respectful yet effective with our individuals," said Dr. Mary Sharp, who trains first responders.
Since each child with autism has different behaviors, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize. Retired Lansing Police Officer Scott Schuelke saw a need for more training for first responders in how to recognize a child with autism and bring him or her back to their family, after they elope. He partnered with other local leaders in autism awareness, and they now travel the state , training agencies in how to help these kids.
"When they're sent out on a call and saying somebody's high or drunk they're crazy. When the officer gets out there they have 30 seconds to make that decision, and our trainings are hopefully helping them in the street make these decisions," said Scott Schuelke, an Autism Safety Specialist.
The Lansing Police Department's training has helped them bring ben and many other children home. Schuelke hopes that his training will prepare other police departments in mid-michigan and around the state for the call from a panicked parent like Bambi.
"It could have been much worse," said VanWoert.
The Mid-Michigan Autism Alliance is assembling a team for the Capital City River Run to raise money for safety training initiatives. For more information about the team visit www.midmichiganautism.com.
If you are interested in coordinating a safety training effort, please contact Officer Schuelke at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://autismallianceofmichigan.org/.