Autism Speaks and Guardian Angels Join Forces On Search Efforts During Autism Wandering Incidents

New program will support families and raise awareness of the dangers of wandering

NEW YORK, N.Y. (November 25, 2013) — Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, and the Guardian Angels today have formed a partnership to address the growing incidence of wandering in the autism community and to provide assistance with finding missing people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

A recent study by the Interactive Autism Network, funded in-part by Autism Speaks, reported that 49 percent of people with ASD are prone to wandering. In early October, Avonte Oquendo, a 14 year-old boy with ASD, went missing after wandering from his school in New York City. Another teen with ASD, Michael Karwan, 19, went missing after leaving his home in Marlboro, N.J., on Tuesday, November 19. Efforts are still underway to find both teens.

People with ASD can become particularly vulnerable if they go missing. Given some of the core symptoms of the disorder, such as communication difficulties and lack of speech, nearly one-third of the individuals who wander may not be able to say their name, phone number or address. Some individuals with ASD also may not fully understand danger, and can become attracted to distant objects and bodies of water. This poses a significant threat to the safety and well-being of those with ASD who are prone to wandering.

Spearheaded by Autism Speaks Board Member Billy Mann and Guardian Angels Board Member and Treasurer Edward Moldaver, the partnership will roll out in 32 states where the Guardian Angels have chapters. The joint announcement was made this morning by Autism Speaks President Liz Feld and Guardian Angels Founder and CEO Curtis Sliwa during his syndicated radio show, The Curtis Sliwa Show.

“Losing track of a child is terrifying to any parent, and our community is more vulnerable than most. We need partners on the ground in neighborhoods across the country to help keep our loved ones safe,” said Feld. “The Guardian Angels will do that. We are so proud to partner with them. This initiative will provide an actionable way to educate the public about wandering’s dangers while also supporting families whose loved ones have gone missing.”    

In addition to providing support during wandering incidents, the Guardian Angels will work with Autism Speaks to distribute information on how to identify an individual with ASD who may be lost, and on the appropriate steps to take if someone comes in to contact with them. The Guardian Angels will also work with Autism Speaks to raise awareness of the threats associated with wandering and ways to prevent it from happening.

“Following the disappearance of Avonte Oquendo, the Guardian Angels knew we had to take action,” said Sliwa. “By combining our ability to rally assistance during crisis situations with Autism Speaks’ knowledge and resources, we are not only raising awareness of the issue of wandering, but we are also putting feet on the ground in an effort to help with search efforts. These are important steps to take so that families can be reunited with their loved ones.”     

If a person with ASD goes missing or wanders, families and caregivers, or those in the vicinity, should always alert local authorities first and immediately.  Autism Speaks can be contacted for additional assistance only after local authorities have implemented the necessary procedures to find a missing person. The level of support provided by the Guardian Angels will be based on the needs of the family of the missing person and supplemental to the efforts of first-responders.

To request assistance, contact Autism Speaks’ Autism Response Team from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. local time, Monday – Friday, at 888-288-4762 or en Español at 888-772-9050, or by email at familyservices@autismspeaks.org. After 1:00 p.m. and on weekends, email media@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks representatives will then alert the Guardian Angels, who will mobilize the nearest local chapter to distribute missing person fliers and provide assistance with search efforts as needed by the family. Autism Speaks offers wandering tips and safety information for families and caregivers on its website, www.autismspeaks.org.

About Autism
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 78 percent increase in six years that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Mr. Wright is the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has committed nearly $200 million to research and developing innovative resources for families. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 100 cities across North America. On the global front, Autism Speaks has established partnerships in more than 40 countries on five continents to foster international research, services and awareness. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.