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Autism Awareness in Iowa: The Dangers of Wandering

PHOTO: Efforts are under way to build support for a bill in the U.S. Senate that would help to reduce the risk of injury and death related to wandering by those with autism. Photo credit: Orin Zebest/Flickr.
PHOTO: Efforts are under way to build support for a bill in the U.S. Senate that would help to reduce the risk of injury and death related to wandering by those with autism. Photo credit: Orin Zebest/Flickr.
April 6, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa - This is Autism Awareness Month, and one focus this year is on the dangers of those children on the spectrum who engage in wandering. Kris Steinmetz, executive director with the Autism Society of Iowa, says kids with autism often have no fear and don't realize the consequences of going off on their own.

"They often like to try to escape, as we say, and even some who are low-functioning can get the best deadbolt open and can wander from the family," says Steinmetz. "One of the other issues that's very scary with that is a lot of times children with autism are drawn towards water."

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 with 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," says Fournier. "So the police really need some training to start recognizing autism and other cognitive disorders."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-in-68 children in the United States is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA