Autism: A Life-Saving Database

One of the biggest concerns facing families of children or adults with autism or Alzheimer’s disease is how to prevent wandering.

Autism: A Life-Saving Database

One of the biggest concerns facing families of children or adults with autism or Alzheimer’s disease is how to prevent wandering. 

50% of children with autism wander from their caregivers, sometimes leading to injury or even death. More than half of these children who wander go missing – often into dangerous situations. 3 out of 5 individuals with Alzheimer’s disease wander off, and 60% of them are likely to sustain a severe injury if they are not found within 24 hours.

This is why a new approach has been developed to assist law enforcement officers in identifying individuals with autism or Alzheimer’s disease, and helping them to find their way home.

An invaluable resource for safety in the community

Back in 2003, Pensacola law enforcement officer, Jimmy Donohoe, was invited to attend a meeting of the Autism Society of the Panhandle. During the meeting, parents of non-verbal children with autism asked him for advice on how to improve encounters between children and officers. Donohoe offered a few suggestions; however, they were not acceptable to all of the parents. He left the meeting determined to find a solution to the issue.

The “Take Me Home” program evolved from that meeting, with an aim to provide special assistance to children or adults who find themselves lost or experiencing an emergency. This type of assistance may be necessary if the individual is unable to speak or to properly identify themselves or if they become lost, disoriented or act in a manner that may be interpreted as disrespectful or even threatening. For instance, if a law enforcement officer encounters an individual in the “Take Me Home” program, they can access the database for detailed information, including a current digital photo, demographic information (weight, height, etc.), and the phone number of a caregiver. Once the individual’s record has been located, the officer will have the necessary information that he or she needs to properly assist the individual. The program also works in reverse – for instance, if a loved one has gone missing.

“Take Me Home” is in conjunction with the Autism Society’s Safe and Sound initiative. The collaborative effort provides much needed resources to the autism community on topics such as general safety, risk management, as well as emergency preparedness and prevention. Safe and Sound helps individuals with autism, their families, and professionals to receive necessary information on public safety or criminal/juvenile justice situations. Furthermore, it provides beneficial strategies to help prepare for, stay safe during, and to avoid these situations.

First response in a matter of minutes

Police departments throughout the nation have made the commitment to gather, use, and maintain the individual enrollment records within the “Take Me Home” program. They also have a responsibility to keep it updated and current.

Once the program is in place in a community, individuals can contact the police department. They can then submit a recent photo, relevant information, and emergency contact information. Officers can then access that information out in the field or back at the station.

Last year, “Take Me Home” launched in the Schenectady police department. It was Schenectady Assemblyman, Angelo Santabarbara, who announced the new program. “It’s very real in our community and something that can happen anywhere, any time. We hear about things like this happening and we want to make a difference here in Schenectady” he said. Santabarbara’s own son has autism. “My biggest fear is my son could find himself in an emergency situation or if he strays too far from home and he’s not able to communicate basic information like who he is and where he lives” he said.

One of the police department’s main objectives is to use the technology to make everyone’s lives a little bit easier. This is how Lieutenant Michael McLaughlin was able to pull up information on 5 year old Jesenia, who has autism, in a matter of minutes. “A database with anybody with any type of special need obviously cuts down the response time for us to be able to get somebody to help to a loved one and to care” said Lt. McLaughlin.

Jesenia’s mother, Sherain Rivera, signed up her little girl for the program, with the intention of getting her back home safe if she were ever lost. “We’re in the supermarket she runs off, when we’re at Walmart she runs off, it’s pretty scary, you know how big super Walmart is” said Sherain. Jesenia received a charm with a unique serial number, which is being provided through a partnership with Northeastern Fine Jewelry, as an additional layer of identification. Her mother explained to her the importance of wearing the charm to keep her safe. “Authorities, period, find it disrespectful when a person is not looking them in the face so they’ll know now this person has autism now we know how to deal with them” said Sherain.

“Take Me Home” has provided a great deal of comfort to this mother who strives to keep her daughter close. “I feel excited, I feel very safe, because she wanders off a lot. It just really feels good to know that we have an ID that can identify her” she said.

Executive director of the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region, Janine Kruiswijk, stated that she sees “Take Me Home” as an imperative approach to ensuring safety. When an individual with autism or Alzheimer’s disease wanders off or goes missing, relaying information to first responders across the region will ensure that there will be thousands of eyes looking for that particular individual. “This will really work well to ensure that our loved ones are returned safely, unharmed and that we have a very good outcome” said Kruiswijk.

  • Take Me Home is distributed across the nation and it is available to all law enforcement agencies, free of charge. It is voluntary for citizens who participate, there is no enrollment fee, and all of the information used to support the program is kept confidential.