LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - On Tuesday, both a 20-year-old and 16-year-old went missing. Both have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
However, The American Academy of Pediatrics reports almost every day, a child with autism is reported missing. They showed nearly half of all children diagnosed with autism run away and potentially are missing at least once before their 17th birthday. It's a scary statistic to those who work with the autistic community.
"We hire staff to be with them one-on-one, and that means that they're at that person's elbow 24 hours a day, seven days a week," explained Donna Akins, director of Arc of the Shoals.
Donna Akins knows first hand how easy it is to let a child with autism slip away. She is the director of a program that supports those with intellectual and developmental disorders
"It's really sad that parents have no support," Akins sad. "They are the person who is responsible for taking care of their child 24 hours a day, and you literally can't take your eyes off of them. I feel so sorry for that parent that probably glanced away for a very short time and their child got away. I can't imagine the fright"
Avis added with cuts to the mental healthcare budget looming, the issue could get worse. Many group homes and programs would have to shut down, leaving much of the autistic population with nowhere to go.
But, there are steps you can take to make sure they come home safe at the end of the day. AngelsSense is a GPS and voice monitoring tool for parents and caretakers. With a monthly subscription, you can keep track of your loved one.
There's also 'Project Lifesaver.' That program is one law enforcement officials in north Alabama have taken advantage of.
"It allows us to provide enhanced search and rescue for people who suffer from Alzheimer or autism or some other brain condition that causes them to wander," explained Lt. Phil Moss with the Florence Police Department. 'Project Lifesaver' is similar to AngelSense, but relies on radio waves so it can only track small distances. Both provide wearable transmitters and allow parents or police to locate a missing person much faster.
"Caregivers can alert the police and we can deploy the search equipment," said Moss. "We're fortunate here in Florence that we never had an enrollee wander further who was in the program."
Like many law enforcement agencies in the Shoals, Project Lifesaver is sponsored in Florece. Officials only offer the program to what they call 'repeat wanderers.'