Having a child go missing or runaway is highly stressful for parents. When the missing child has special needs as those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it gets even more confusing and worrying. Unfortunately, wandering and elopement are things that children with ASD have a tendency to do. Their condition prevents them from understanding the dangers of doing so, and their limitations in communication and cognition makes search even more challenging.
To unpack this phenomenon is Leemie Kahng-Sofer from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). She is NCMEC’s Program Manager for their Missing Children Division. Based in the Texas Regional Office, she oversees case management in regional offices in Florida, New York and Texas, and is in charge of major initiatives related to child sex trafficking, children missing from care, and long-term missing children.
Specifics tackled on this session include:
- An overview of NCMEC, it’s history, mission and services rendered to law enforcement and families of missing children.
- The phenomenon of wandering, elopement or bolting in children with ASD.
- Things that children with autism tend to be attracted to that may pose dangers and a case study that demonstrates the dangers of these interests and fascinations.
- The risks and vulnerabilities that children with autism are subjected to as a result of their social and cognitive limitations and examples of how these played out in the real world.
- The trends and patterns, plus a pivotal case that NCMEC worked on which highlighted the importance of raising awareness on wandering with children on the spectrum.
- A look into NCMEC reports and the segment of the missing children population that are identified to have ASD.
- Building awareness and fostering partnerships with other stakeholders to come up with proactive efforts and protocols when it comes to search and rescue for children with autism.
- NCMEC’s partnership with the National Autism Association (NAA), Nixle and Nextdoor and the systems they put into place for better reporting, alerts, and notifications.
- Defining what a missing child is and understanding NCMEC’s organizational structure on how they handle cases.
- The importance of urgency when it comes to reporting and the information provided when reporting to lead to a safe recovery.
- A look into NCMEC’s process flow from the call center reports to the deployment of resources.
- NCMEC’s various resources that ensure visibility, rapid response, round-the-clock assistance, and victim advocacy for the families of the missing children.
- Proactive initiatives to educate the families, communities, law enforcement and other stakeholders on the behavior, vulnerabilities, and risks for children with ASD.
- Zeroing in on children with ASD’s attraction to water, case examples that ended up with drowning, and the importance of teaching them water safety.
Topics raised during the Q&A were on:
- Dos and don’ts for search and rescue for someone with ASD.
- Terminologies used throughout the webinar.
- ASD-specific training for care providers and advocates.
- Availability of Team Adam resources.
- Volunteer and asset management for missing child cases.
- New York’s Avonte’s Law.
- NCMEC’s coordination with Nixle and Nextdoor.
Resources Mentioned During Webinar:
- Autism Wandering Tips
- Investigative Checklist for Responding to Missing Children with Special Needs
- Missing Children with Special Needs Addendum
- Special Needs Questionnaire
This is the third of a 4 part series, including:
- November 14: Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Characteristic Behaviors, Challenges, and Tips for Successful Interactions for Justice Professionals
- December 5: Recognizing the Signs of Victimization in Children with ASD
- February 4: Case Studies in Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
- “Great presenter!” — Tanya
- “Wonderful presentation on the resources of NCMEC for ASD children.” — Sheryl
- “Highlighting behaviors to be mindful of. Additionally, suggestions for better search/rescue operations.” — Samantha
- “Excellent points on the investigation. By having this information the child may be found.” — Robert
- “Leemie was super helpful.” — Kaelie
- “How to attract a child out of hiding and keep them calm once located.” — Hilaire
- “I had no idea that some children with ASD are attracted to water. That was mind-blowing and really changes how I look at investigations and future preventative directions.” — Anna
- “How to get NCMEC involved was the most valuable information I learned.” — Allison