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A Known Danger in North Dakota: Wandering with Autism

PHOTO: April is Autism Awareness Month, and efforts are underway to build support for a U.S. Senate bill that would help reduce the risk of injury and death related to autism spectrum wandering. Photo credit: Martin Brigden/Flickr.
PHOTO: April is Autism Awareness Month, and efforts are underway to build support for a U.S. Senate bill that would help reduce the risk of injury and death related to autism spectrum wandering. Photo credit: Martin Brigden/Flickr.
April 6, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. - April is Autism Awareness Month, and one focus this year is on the dangers of children on the autism spectrum who engage in wandering.

Sandy Smith, executive director of the North Dakota Autism Center, says wandering is a very real and scary issue. She adds wandering is something she has to guard against with her son, who has autism.

"He sees things, especially now in the nice weather," she says. "If we didn't have a key lock on the patio door he would just let himself out to go outside, and would just go to what he thinks are his favorite places. And we would be trying to look for him."

It's estimated that nearly half of children on the autism spectrum engage in wandering.

In an effort to reduce the dangers associated with wandering, the U.S. Senate is considering a bill to provide funding for police departments to purchase equipment that can help locate people with autism who go missing. Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, says the legislation also calls for training for law enforcement agencies to better recognize and respond to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"It's really easy for a person with a communication disorder to come across as being uncooperative to the police," she says. "Police really need some training to start recognizing autism and other cognitive disorders."

According to the CDC, one in 68 children in the United States is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - ND