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‘Big Red Safety Box’ Helping Local Autism Families with Wandering

DES MOINES, Iowa -- According to the National Autism Association, one out of every 59 Americans has Autism Spectrum Disorder, and out of those people, nearly half have a tendency to wander or run away from safe settings.

We’ve seen this happen right in our area not too long ago, and unfortunately, it can have a devastating outcome.

Earlier in July, Jazmin Reyes Raya, a Marshalltown teen with autism, went missing. In April of 2018, La Porte City’s Jake Wilson, also diagnosed with autism, went missing. Both died before being found. That’s why the National Autism Association is doing something to help.

Des Moines’ Kylee and Amanda Tilley worry every day for their six-year-old son, Cohen, who has autism.

“I think running and music are probably his favorite things in the world,” Amanda Tilley said.

With a sense of curiosity, Cohen has a high risk of wandering. His parents have latches on almost all of their doors, and even a certified safety bed to keep him enclosed at night.

“I worry all the time,” Amanda said. “We have stickers. There’s one on the door and then one on each of our cars that says: ‘child with autism, may wander, may not respond to verbal commands,’ and to me that's not enough.”

That’s why Amanda applied for a Big Red Safety Box, a free-of-charge tool kit for Autism families.

“Him being non-verbal, that just adds a whole other element to it. He can’t tell someone 'I’m lost.' 'I don’t know where I live.' All he can do is, you know, he probably has a 20 or so word vocabulary,” Amanda said.

But the Big Red Safety Box helps. From an alert wristband and shoe ID tag to wireless door and window alarms, it helps with not only prevention but response efforts, and even education.

“Neighbors, law enforcement, your community, I think it helps them become aware that maybe there is a child with autism in your community,” Leslie Rogers, ChildServe’s Autism Clinical Manager said. “It also gives them tips and strategies to help that child in case they would wander away from a family member or parent.”

Childserve in the Des Moines metro says they are always looking for resources to pass on to parents to help with safety and awareness, this Big Red Safety Box can really make a difference.

“I looked at everything it came with and I was definitely like ‘yes!’ I didn’t even close it. I just signed up right then. [I said] ‘yes we’re doing this. This is definitely something that would benefit us,’” Amanda said.

Over the last five years, the National Autism Association has shipped over 40,000 of these Big Red Safety Boxes. The 2019 grant cycle just started up. You can apply on the Association’s website.

When it comes to why autistic people wander, there really is no exact answer. According to Rogers, it can be anything from a special interest or trying to escape an overwhelming situation. It becomes even more dangerous because they struggle to recognize danger. Unfortunately, drowning is the leading cause of death among those with autism.

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