Autism Risk and Safety Mangement

Developmental Wings is hoping to co-sponsor a seminar with local law enforcement agencies to discuss Autism Risk & Safety Issues.  Dennis Debbaudt’s conference sessions are designed to identify issues of risk and provide strategies to help manage ASD risks at home, school and in the community. Every session includes instruction on and information about:

• Common autism behaviors and characteristics
• Public safety issues
• Criminal justice issues
• Wandering, Search and Rescue
• Initial contact options
• Establishing communications
• Behavioral deescalation techniques
• Restraint and arrest options
• Offender and victim trends
• Fire-Rescue and emergency medical response
• Dilemmas and tips in interrogation and interview settings
• Working proactively with families, advocacy organizations and school systems
• Model programs
• Cross educational opportunities

AMBER/SILVER Alert Action Alert!


Your help is needed in getting an alert system in place for children with autism and other disabilities

Dear Friends,

Below is an article in the September issue of The Autism File Magazine regarding the lack of mandated emergency coordination for missing children with autism.

Currently our children are NOT included in the AMBER Alert criteria -- only abducted children qualify. Currently our children are NOT part of the Silver Alert criteria -- only adults with mental impairments qualify.


It is our hope that National Legislation will be introduced by a willing legislator who can make sure an alert system with mandated emergency search efforts is in place for these children.

Please send this article to your legislator, along with any personal stories you may want to share. Follow this link to retrieve your legislators' contact information: 
Legislator Contact information

Ask them for an alert system in your area -- ask for their help in getting federal legislation introduced that will guide states in implementing an alert system nationwide. It is necessary and important that our children have mandated resources in place to help ensure their safe return home.

By Lori McIlwain. Article courtesy of
The Autism File Issue 29, Autumn 2008,

As the warmer months roll in, so do summer camps, open windows and flimsy screen doors. Longer recesses in the late school months. More outdoor gatherings. More chances for a child with autism to wander.
It’s only logical an increase of disappearances and deaths would happen in our community. With one in 150 children now diagnosed, and 92% of them prone to wandering according to an online survey conducted by the National Autism Association, children with autism are at more risk for wandering-related deaths than ever. But if you think the AMBER Alert system will help recover our missing children, don’t.
As we learned last year following the disappearance of Benjy Heil, the seven-year-old who wandered from his Michigan home, only abducted children qualify. I recall the update from a search team member: “Benjy was last seen by a neighbor on the road, the neighbor told him to get off the road or he'll get hit.”… “I asked the police why they didn't send out an AMBER Alert. They said he didn't meet criteria."
It’s a common assumption that AMBER Alerts are for all missing children. Named after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman who was abducted and murdered in 1996, AMBER is also an acronym for "America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response." Whenever we see an AMBER Alert, we’re given a description of a missing child, along with any other relevant information. In 2006, there were 261 AMBER Alerts issued, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Children were recovered on the same day of the Alert in 106 of the cases, with the majority being found within the same city they were reported missing. Eleven of the 261 cases crossed state lines.

Could An Amber Alert System
Help Our Children?
One can’t help wondering if an AMBER Alert would have helped Benjy. Maybe the neighbor would have known to call 911. Benjy’s body was found a few days later in a creek.
According to a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (Shavelle, et al, 2001), elevated death rates among those with autism were in large part attributed to drowning. Drownings typically happen after a child with autism has wandered. In the past four years alone, at least 14 children with autism under age 12 have died as a result of wandering.
A couple of months after Benjy’s death, my own child went missing. Same age, same diagnosis. He managed to escape a schoolyard – wandering close to an hour before a gentleman found him. “I almost didn’t stop,” the man told me. “He looked like he could’ve been old enough to walk alone, he was heading towards Davis Drive.” (Davis, one of the busiest four lane roads in our town.) In his thick Brooklyn accent, he explained he was going to buy stamps, and although he drove past Connor, he figured he’d turn the car around to “get a better look.” Once he realized Connor was missing, he called the local authorities.
That night I went from restlessly lying in bed, to sitting up. I wrapped my forearms around my knees, rocking, sobbing. Benjy Heil’s mother didn’t have what I had. Come dark, her child was still missing. Come three days, her child was dead.
Like any parents, my husband Christian and I fear the worst each time Connor leaves our home. He’s wandered a total of seven times, each time from the classroom or playground of three different schools. We’ve taken detailed measures to ensure his safety, including fighting for a one-on-one and enrolling him in the Project Lifesaver program, which provides a tracking transmitter that Connor now wears around his wrist. Most Sheriff offices do not participate in Project Lifesaver due to lack of funding, so it’s only available to a select few. Having an organized Alert system in place would help compensate for the lack of programs like Project Lifesaver.
I’ve thought about Benjy from time and time, and Logan Mitcheltree, who wandered from his Pennsylvania home in 2004. He was nine and died from prolonged exposure to the cold. I’ve kept a well-worn news photo of him at my desk as a reminder. Being a child advocate and part of the National Autism Association, it’s children like this that instill the desire to not give up.

A New Alert System Is Created,
But No Children Allowed
It was early May when I was reminded of the AMBER Alert. One had been issued in our area – the details crawled over our evening newscast. I must’ve let out a sigh since Christian asked what was wrong. I explained what happened to Benjy, and how an AMBER Alert could’ve made a difference. He walked to the computer, looked up the AMBER Alert and wrote down the lawmakers most involved with its enactment.
I’d been down this road before. Calling legislators. Asking their receptionist for the right staffer. Getting voicemail and a callback born out of obligation more than compassion. All reasons to procrastinate. Then a few days later I noticed a different Alert on my TV screen. A Silver Alert. Although I’d never heard of it, I understood what it meant. A missing senior, likely with Alzheimer’s.
The Silver Alert became effective in my state of North Carolina in 2007. It’s a system that notifies the public about missing endangered adults who suffer from dementia or other cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer's disease. The only downside to the system? No children allowed.
It prompted me to call one of the names on my list – Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who had helped our cause in the past. Once I got her Judiciary staffer on the phone, I figured it would be a no-brainer. “We need to expand the criteria of the AMBER Alert,” I told him. “Our children need the same recovery measures as seniors with Alzheimer’s, except under the AMBER Alert name. People know it’s for children."
It wasn’t that simple, he explained. AMBER Alert is part of a national communications system. It’s for abducted children that are likely to cross state lines. He added that if too many children were included in the Alert’s criteria, say, for local recovery measures, other groups would want their children added, too. Too many Alerts would result in a desensitized public.
But we’re talking about disabled children. Not teenage runaways. Not prom-goers that missed curfew. The staffer has since not returned my calls or emails. A faxing campaign to Feinstein’s office was initiated. Feinstein replied she would keep our “concerns and suggestions in mind as my staff and I continue to review legislative options on this matter."
Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the Republican Senator from Texas where the AMBER Alert legislation originated, was the second office I phoned. Her staffer was politely dismissive while pointing out several times that I was “the first person to call about this."