I am not sure if you heard the story last about Mikaela Lynch. She was a 9 year old girl with autism who wandered out of her California vacation home last Sunday and was found dead 3 days later. Mikaela drowned in a nearby marsh. Mikaela was nonverbal, loved the water, and had a history of wandering. Read the news story here. To say I have a heavy heart is an understatement. I can’t begin to comprehend the grief and devastation her parents must be feeling. I think of that innocent young girl who was unable to fend for herself. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family.
I became even more saddened when I continued to read stories online about this event. Accusations and harsh judgements flooded comment boxes and editorials. Why was the girl unsupervised? Were the parents negligent? Why was their video footage of Mikaela running naked nearby? This public opinion sensationalized a truly tragic event. Talk about kicking someone when they are down. These parents are dealing with enough. Where were the news stories that included the frequency that some children with autism engaging in wandering/running away behavior? One website said that video footage showed that her parents were only 3 minutes behind her and called the police only 14 minutes after she ran off. Kids are fast. Her parents were right inside the house. Several stories forgot to mention that this child had a history of taking off her clothes when she was hot (I know a lot of my students would be naked if they could!). Take the time to read this article – The Wrong Questions Are Being Asked About Mikaela Lynch by the National Autism Association. Also read this article – Before You Judge, Know the Research. Although the Autism Awareness movement is in an obvious upswing – we need to also raise awareness on the dangers of wandering within the autism population.
So what can we do? There are some great resource online. Parents – please check these out. Teachers/therapist – please distribute these to the parents of your students.
AWAARE (Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education)
This website has caregiver and first responder toolkits. The big red safety box can be free for families in need.
Tons of information and tips for the community, home, first responders, and identifying signs of abuse.
Please take this opportunity to educate yourself and the parents of your students. I had no idea so many resources were available. I am contacting one family today to help them apply for the Big Red Safety Box. Prevention is key. Our thoughts are with Mikaela today.