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  • Autism Council of Utah

What To Do When Someone with Autism Is Missing

Updated: May 9



If Your Child is Missing

A Family Guide

 

IF YOUR CHILD IS LOST

 NOTE: When the word “child” is used in this document, it is assumed

that adults are included as well. 

A parent’s child, is always their child, no matter how old they are!


A parent’s worst nightmare, their child is missing, even if their child is an adult.  In July of 2023 my friend’s adult child, with profound autism, went missing.  Miraculously, he was found safe.  He is non-speaking so we will never know of his experience out alone for almost 24 hours – was he hungry or scared, how did he cross the streets safety, was he cold, and so many more questions.  It could have been any one of our children.  The show of community support was amazing.  Jarrett’s situation prompted me to continue on this path of figuring out alert systems in Utah and providing parents a guide to use in their time of overwhelming distress.  Every family is unique, and everyone’s missing child story is different — as are their interactions with law enforcement and volunteers.  Hopefully this guide will help families in these unthinkable situations.

 

Cheryl Smith, AUTISM COUNCIL OF UTAH


Acknowledgements:

Officer Kelly Taylor

Marilyn Stevenson

Deborah Dilley


 
 

July 2023 - Jarrett NON-VERBAL IS MISSING FROM HIS GROUP HOME

UPDATE: West Jordan young man with autism found safe

 

KSL: Group pushes for autism alert awareness after caregiver lies

about missing man - March 8, 2024



 

GET A PACKET READY NOW WITH YOUR CHILD’S INFORMATION – DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU NEED IT.

  • Find good-quality digital photographs that show your child as they currently look on a normal day.

  • Avoid school or portrait-type photos if they don’t accurately reflect how your child typically or currently appears (the way they wear their hair, makeup, and clothing).

  • The photo selected will be the first (and possibly only) visual image of your child the public sees through media broadcasts, social media posts, and fliers; this is why the selection of a photo is so important.

  • Accurate, recent, and realistic photos can help law enforcement and the public recognize your child.

  • Write down a detailed description of your child, including: • Height, weight, hair color and length, and eye color.

  • Distinctive features – prescription eyeglasses or orthodontic braces; a birthmark, scar, or tattoo/s; unique mannerisms, movements, or speech patterns.

  • Personal items your child likes and would likely have at the time of disappearance, such as jewelry, a watch, headphones/earbuds, notebooks/ books, backpack/purse, and a cell phone or other devices. Brands or logos help identify these items if you know them.

  • Details about the vehicle your child had access to if a vehicle is missing, including the make, model, color, and license number, if you know them. Any notable markings such as rust spots, dents, or bumper stickers can be especially helpful in distinguishing common makes and models of cars.

  • Create a list of things that your child loves and things that might trigger them.  Law enforcement may need to know these things to secure your child when they find them.

  • List where your child might go, i.e. water, train tracks, stores, parks, etc.  Think about friends, neighbor’s homes, teachers, service providers where your child regularly goes or knows about.

  • List emergency contacts and relationship.

  • List medications and medical diagnoses

  • Update the list every year.

  • Keep the packet in an easily accessible location and let family members know where that is.

 

IMMEDIATELY REPORT YOUR CHILD/ADULT AS MISSING TO

LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT

 

  • Do not delay the reporting by doing your own extensive search. Time is critical. Law enforcement can conduct complex searches more rapidly and effectively than you can.

  • There is no waiting period before you can report your child missing or overdue.

  • Clothing you last saw your child wearing, including brands if you know them.

  • Give law enforcement your packet of information regarding your child.

  • Limit access to your home and property until law enforcement has completed a thorough search.

  • Do not touch, move, or remove anything from your child’s room.

  • Clothing, sheets, grooming items, and trash cans hold clues to the whereabouts of your child through DNA evidence. They also can provide a strong scent for tracking dogs.

  • Secure all digital devices your child uses – including computers, laptops, tablets, cell phones, gaming consoles, and external storage equipment (e.g., thumb or flash drives) – until law enforcement can conduct a forensic search of them.

  • Do not attempt to investigate your child’s technology devices on your own.

  • Provide all items noted above to law enforcement.

  • Be ready to share whatever information you have regarding equipment, website and application logins, passwords, codes, email addresses, and screen names.


Is anything missing – or not missing – that you would expect your child to have taken? See if anything – or nothing – is absent from your child’s room or your home. Has your child taken personal items (such as clothing, a laptop, medications, or money)?

Be aware that finding nothing amiss can be equally as telling as missing items –

and can change the focus of the investigation.


Tell law enforcement all of the facts and circumstances related to your child’s disappearance, including what efforts have been made to find them.

  • When and where your child was last seen, if known.

  • Any friends or staff if applicable your child may be with or may have talked to.

  • Any routes and modes of travel your child may have taken.

  • Your child’s favorite hangouts or comfort areas.

  • Your child’s normal routine and any changes or unusual behaviors or circumstances you’ve noticed.

  • If your child has run away or gone missing before.


Inform your officer about your child’s medical conditions, or if your child has any health-related issues.

  • Does your child rely on medications that they don’t have with them, or may not have access to?

  • Provide your child’s blood type, if known.

  • Does your child use any illegal substances or alcohol?

  • Does your child have any special needs, such as a hearing or visual disability?

  • Does your child have any cognitive challenges, such as autism, attention- deficit disorder, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder?  How does this affect them and how should law enforcement prepare for an interaction with them?

  • Describe any specific behaviors or movements they make, such as reactions to other people or environmental situations (e.g., loud noises, bright lights, bodies of water, wooded or other areas to which they are drawn).

  • Be forthcoming about any problems going on in your home/family. The more law enforcement understands about the situation at home, at school, and with friends, the better they can steer investigative efforts to find your child.

  • Are there any custody issues/court-ordered visitation rules in place? If so, give your officer contact information for the other parent.

  • Have you or a family member recently argued with your child?

  • Has your child previously been missing? If so, under what circumstances?

  • Has your child experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse?

  • Has Child Protective Services interacted with your family? If so, how recently and under what circumstances?

  • Has your child had any prior involvement with the juvenile justice system?


Before officers leave ask:

 

  • Have they instigated an alert? 

 

There are three alerts in Utah, the Amber, EMA, and Silver.  A Silver alert can be used for vulnerable adults no matter what age they are.  EMA alerts are for individuals aged between the Amber and Silver alert.  The EMA alert goes to all law enforcement and news media.

 

  • What kind of search are they doing?

  • How will the public be notified?

  • Who will respond to media requests?

  • How will leads be managed?

  • Is there a family liaison we can get?

  • Get full contact info for your law enforcement team.

  • Make sure law enforcement has your contact information and that of people who can reach you.

  • What kind of searches are planned?

  • Home/school/school locker/neighborhood/grids/water/cellular tracking/dogs

  • Ask them to update you on areas searched

  • Ask how improvements can be made

  • Keep communication open

  • Be respectful

 

What more can you do to help:

 

  • Ask neighbors to share recent home security camera footage.

  • Posting your child’s missing flier on social media sites

  • Posting printed fliers

  • Talking about ways to increase media interest

 

Enlisting and managing volunteers

There is great power in large, well-coordinated search efforts. Yet when hundreds of people want to help your family during a moment of crisis, we must ensure those volunteers are properly organized and prepared. Those enlisted in a search – either as part of a pre-vetted organization or as ad hoc volunteers – should have their contact information recorded, be fully briefed on assignments and reporting, and be monitored throughout the process to protect the investigation. Missteps such as overlooked or destroyed evidence can delay your child’s recovery.

If you decide to use volunteers to support law enforcement or provide public outreach, designate a volunteer coordinator who is organized, efficient, and effective at providing direction. While you may be tempted to take this on yourself, it’s often too much to handle, both logistically and emotionally, given all that you are enduring. It is important for you to stay closely connected with the investigation. Your coordinator won’t perform volunteer activities directly, but should delegate and manage activity for specific needs – from finding someone to print posters and T-shirts to having local restaurants donate and deliver food and water to your family or search team personnel. You can ask your officer for thoughts on where to start in finding help with volunteer coordination. Make sure your law enforcement team has contact information for your volunteer coordinator if you select one, and for all volunteers approved to help your family.  The Google Map system can be used for assigning areas to volunteers.

Your volunteer coordinator can keep track of those who offer to help for later contact, if needed. When your child goes missing, it is hard to think of what you need right then, much less what you will need in the future. Keep notes on who offers to volunteer, and what they can do to assist, for later reference. Once you decide what you need, refer to your notes and contact your volunteers to help.

Watch for worrisome helpers who want to be over-involved or wants to use your loss to draw attention to themselves, if you feel uncomfortable with anyone who wants to help for any reason, tell your volunteer coordinator or investigator.

 

Some things volunteers can do:

 

Visiting area business to request donation of supplies you need

Contacting nonprofit organizations for assistance with designing and printing a flyer

Distributing posters and fliers

Keeping a list of donated items and writing thank you

Preparing meals

Helping with household chores

Running errands

Taking care of pets

Forming and updating prayer groups

Should be coordinated with law enforcement:

Assisting with the intake of tips and leads

Overseeing and monitoring social media

Coordinating with media on stories to promote awareness

 

After the initial steps are taken:

Talk with law enforcement about long term strategies, i.e. reward, using national databases, how to handle tips, adding a family advocate to the team, how to handle prank calls, offers from private investigators and psychics.

Parents, family members, and friends should monitor traditional and social media posts and comments for helpful information. Any concerning content should immediately be sent to your PIO or investigator. Watch for multiple appearances by one individual, or comments indicating knowledge of personal or confidential information not previously revealed, which may help pinpoint either the perpetrator or persons close to them. Do not engage with online trolls.


Reuniting with your child:

Work with law enforcement to arrange for an immediate, complete medical examination of your child. This ensures any urgent problems are treated. It also allows for the collection of critically important DNA and the documentation of any evidence of physical harm and sexual abuse. “People think that once you and your child are reunited it’s all hugs and kisses and

Understand that children or adults who have run away or been lured away may have special needs or challenges. They may view law enforcement as a threat and fear they may be prosecuted for their activities during the time they were missing. Youth who are lured away from home may also want to protect the abuser, as they’ve been deceived and brainwashed into seeing them as their protector.


Request that a trained professional conduct a specialized forensic interview with your child to determine what happened while missing. The selection of a suitable site for the interview, such as a children’s advocacy center, is extremely important. The tone and content of questions asked are also important in order to help your child feel safe in providing honest and complete information.


If child advocacy and/or forensic interviewing services are unavailable in your community, have your investigator contact -

the National Children’s Advocacy Center at 256-533-KIDS (5437) or nationalcac.org.


RESOURCES AND REFERENCES

When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide | 5th Edition, 2023 55, https://familysurvival.amberadvocate.org


More information about AMBER Alert programs and outcomes is available at amberalert.ojp.gov/statistics.


There are three alerts in Utah, the Amber, EMA, and Silver. 

  • A Silver alert can be used for vulnerable adults no matter what age they are. 

  • EMA alerts are for individuals between the Amber and Silver alert. 

  • The EMA alert goes to all law enforcement and news media.


Know where they are without asking.  Life360 app

See when they get home from school, leave work, or start warming up on the practice field. When you’re all busy doing your thing, Place Alerts keep you in the know.


Safety + space = win-win.


We all need to do our own thing once in a while. A Bubble lets you temporarily show only your general location for a set period of time for a little privacy. Your Circle will see only your general whereabouts, while all safety features stay on.

Register your child with local law enforcement on the Project Safeguard system.

  


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