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Nearly half of children with autism will wander from safe environments. And more than one-third of children who wander are considered nonverbal. Finding and safely recovering a missing child with autism presents unique and difficult challenges for families, law enforcement, first responders and search teams. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has special search protocols and checklists to help first responders.

Children with autism go missing under a variety of circumstances. They may seek out small or enclosed spaces. They may wander toward places of special interest to them. Or they may try to escape overwhelming stimuli such as sights, sounds, surroundings or activities of others.

Children with autism may exhibit other interests that pose similar dangers such as:

  • Roadways/highways
  • Bodies of Water
  • Trains
  • Heavy equipment
  • Fire trucks
  • Roadway signs
  • Bright lights
  • Traffic signals

Immediate response

When a child with autism goes missing, it is important to quickly identify any unique interests the child has and create a list of their favorite places. First responders should talk to anyone who knows the child well to ask for information about any interests, stimulations or obsessions the child may have. This information could provide key clues leading to a safe recovery.

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