Topeka officer's rescue of child with autism highlights common d - KCTV5

Topeka officer's rescue of child with autism highlights common dangers

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Dramatic video of a child with Autism being rescued from a pond in Topeka is raising a bigger issue that all parents with autistic children face. (Topeka Police Department) Dramatic video of a child with Autism being rescued from a pond in Topeka is raising a bigger issue that all parents with autistic children face. (Topeka Police Department)
Topeka Officer Aaron Bulmer didn’t know the boy who went into the pond was autistic. (Topeka Police Department) Topeka Officer Aaron Bulmer didn’t know the boy who went into the pond was autistic. (Topeka Police Department)
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Dramatic video of a child with autism being rescued from a pond in Topeka highlights several issues that all parents with autistic children face.

Kids with autism try, sometimes daily, to get out of their homes and often head straight for the water, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Experts call it elopement, when a child with autism actively tries to get out of the house.

That Topeka mom says her son figured out how to work the lock on the doorknob, so she tried a deadbolt, but even hiding the key to a deadbolt wasn’t enough. Kids are observant, and like her 4-year-old did, they will find it.

“It’s just really stressful to raise an autistic child," said Kansas City Police Department Capt. Brad Deichler who has a 14-year-old with autism. “My wife and I, who are both in law enforcement, started working on trying to figure out how to keep him safe because he would run off a lot.”

Topeka Officer Aaron Bulmer didn’t know the boy who went into the pond was autistic. His mother later said she had tried two different kinds of locks and, after this, installed a chain lock up out of his reach.

“Hopefully, he doesn’t figure out that all he needs to do is pull a chair and watch us enough times on how to undo that thing," the Topeka boy's mother, Jaclyn Hamby, said.

"All the things that she’s describing are just learning curves and the boy will probably have a faster learning curve than she does, so she’s right. He will figure out how to get out of the situation really quickly," Deichler said.

Deichler has two simple and affordable tools he suggests for caretakers.

One is a basic realtor’s lockbox that can be hung on the door knob to store a deadbolt key. When you need to go out, simply unlock the box with the combination.

“The child usually has a very difficult time figuring this out. This is the one thing that is super inexpensive that we know that works," Deichler said.

Another is an alarm that sticks on your windows. When the window is raised, it will sound.

“Because they will go out the window as well,” Deichler said.

In 2010, 5-year-old Mason Medlam got out through an eight-inch opening in the window at his Colwich, KS home. He was found drowned in a neighbor’s pond.

Kids like Mason often gravitate to water because it soothes the sensory overload that aggravates them.

“But they have to get under the water to do that," Deichler said. “The next problem is a lot of folks with autism will take water into their lungs because there’s not the same alert or alarm that you or I would have when we think we’re starting to drown.”

Children with autism will crawl into a car, he said, or even hide in the trunk. Extreme temperatures can make that dangerous. Deichler’s son eloped and hid often. He once got into a neighbor’s house when the garage door was raised just slightly. The neighbor came home to find Chase in his living room, watching TV and eating chips. Deichler considers himself lucky the neighbor wasn’t both armed and alarmed.

“A lot of deaths result from these escapes or elopements," Deichler said.

In 2014, 4-year-old Gene Cory Ferguson went missing from his home in Cass County. Cadets combed a cornfield, and search dogs looked for his trail. He was found seven hours later in a pond 100-feet from his home.

The KCPD now has mapping software that shows the nearest water body to a home, so when you call, they can skip the drive to your house and have someone head straight for the water. He and some of his colleagues are working on a phone app called “CHASE’ing The Village,” named after his son, Chase.

Deichler suggests calling your local law enforcement agency before something bad happens, asking about their “autism registry” and “notification protocol.” Give them a photo, a description, an idea of your child’s fear triggers and what they are attracted to. Because once they do go missing, every second counts.

“When you’re under stress and duress you may not even remember any of that information. I can tell you that happens a lot because I get these calls a lot," Deichler said.

Another thing to consider is a Bluetooth bracelet that can sound an alarm when they get a programmed distance from home and give police a place to look immediately. Deichler also suggests some sort of identification, whether it be a bracelet, a clothing tag or temporary tattoos. He points out that people with autism, even those who normally have verbal skills will often be unable to verbalize who they are when under stress.If you would like to contact the KCPD to register someone with autism in their city limits, you can send an email to CIT@kcpd.org. A free national registry is available at https://ifineedhelp.org/.ID Tags and other resources are available at https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/resource-library/safety-products.

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