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Wandering a Real Danger for Minnesota Kids with Autism

PHOTO: Efforts are underway 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 children on the autism spectrum. Photo credit: Lance Neilson/Flickr.
PHOTO: Efforts are underway 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 children on the autism spectrum. Photo credit: Lance Neilson/Flickr.
April 6, 2015

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

Jonah Weinberg, executive director of the Autism Society of Minnesota, says one of the challenges that many kids with autism face is the ability to see a situation from another person's perspective.

"It's not so much that the person wants to get away from the parents, it's more that they want to explore or find a place where they feel comfortable," says Weinberg. "So they wander off, but they're not aware that somebody else doesn't know where they are."

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

In an effort to reduce the dangers, 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 - MN