In a previous article, Death Toll of Autism, I mentioned a 5-year-old boy with autism, Jason Medlam, who wandered away from his home in July and drowned in a nearby neighbor’s pond. To read the full article click here.
Now, Mason’s parents, Sheila and Kenneth Medlam, are trying to help keep the same thing from happening to other people’s children with autism. They have started the Mason Allen Medlam Foundation.
The Mason Allen Medlam Foundation is dedicated to getting an alert system in place that will help locate individuals with autism who have gone missing. The proposed Mason Alert will act very much in the same manner as an Amber Alert, but instead of targeting kidnaped children it will target autistic individuals who may not have the capability of making good decisions in dangerous situations.
Many who are not familiar with autism do not know how critical the initial hour after a child with autism has gone missing can be. These are not children who sneak off to go to a friend’s house, or go hang out at the local park. These are children who sneak off to go investigate things they are fascinated with, such as trains, busses, water, or other potentially dangerous subjects. They may have a course in mind that takes them through a busy intersection, or other dangerous area, that they do not have the life-skills to negotiate safely, nor the presence of mind not to attempt negotiate them if that is the case. Or they may have no course in mind at all, and quickly become lost.
When Mason went missing he was only gone for barely more than half an hour. Just 10 minutes after he had last been seen the search for him began. Among the searchers were local law enforcement, family, and neighbors. It was his mother who found him floating in the pond, lifeless. On the foundation’s website she tells the story of how his skin was still pink and how she was the one to initially administer CPR. The paramedics arrived shortly and took over. His heart was restarted, but by then it was too late. Mason died two days later. Mere minutes could have made all the difference. If Mason had been found just 5 minutes earlier he might have survived.
If there had been a Mason Alert authorities on the scene would have had the information they needed to direct their search in a manner that could have brought them to the autistic child’s location in time to save his life. You see, his mother, Sheila, had been at work when she got the call that he was missing. She wasn’t available on sight to direct emergency services to the pond. Though she stayed on the phone with emergency services during her drive home, and told them to check the pond first, the body of water remained uninvestigated by the time she arrived.
Things like this happen in times of confusion. Communication breaks down, and authorities are often left without the pertinent information they need to make the most critical of decisions, even though it is right there. The fact was, they couldn’t find the pond. Hidden in tall grass the searchers couldn’t see it. A Mason Alert could have changed that.
The proposed Mason Alert would have included Mason’s fascination with water, and that pond in particular, along with exact directions on how to find it. There would have been an emphasis in the information that this should be the very first place checked in the search after the autistic child had gone missing.
The information included in the proposed alert would include: (from the website)
A current picture of the child.
Child’s address and Contact information.
Their facinations: i.e. railroads, small spaces, water
Locations of all nearby hazards such as tracks, pools, ponds, abandoned houses, busy intersections.
Notify if the child is verbal or nonverbal. This is very important, because when we search for someone, we tend to stand in one place and shout the person’s name. A nonverbal child won’t respond to this AT ALL. When I arrived home, the police were shouting Mason’s name. I could have been standing right beside him, shouting his name and not gotten a response.
How the child reacts under stress. i.e. do they hide, do they run, do they fight, do they shut down and just stand still.
And finally, how to approach the child and who needs to approach the child. In some instances, authorities will just have to immediately react if the child is in immediate danger, but in other instances, it might be better to wait for a parent or caregiver, and taking this step might help eliminate danger.
How To Support The Mason Alert
In order for lawmakers to take the Mason Alert seriously the foundation must approach them with as many signatures as possible. It is the Medlam family’s goal to go to Washington with a million signatures and personal stories in hand.
Signing up is easy. It takes only 3 minutes. To sign up and show your support click here, or go the Mason Allen Medlam Foundation website.
Mason Allen Medlam Foundation
You can also find them on Facebook.
Related Articles by This Author
Death Toll of Autism
How to Talk to People With Autism