My name is Karen Snyder, and I am writing to you about a new project The Mason Allen Medlam Foundation has been working on for the last few months.
Within this foundation we primarily focus on wandering safety for individuals who have Autism or other cognitive disorders. It is our mission to prevent a family or caregiver from experiencing the pain of losing their loved one due to wandering. At this time we are in the process of trying to get an alert passed for this specific issue.
As you may know neither the Amber Alert nor the Silver Alert apply to an individual who has a cognitive disorder or Autism and has wandered away; therefore, one will not be issued in most circumstances. Unfortunately what that means is critical time and resources are not utilized as they should be and that individual is therefore in more danger.
Most individuals who have Autism as well as a lot of other cognitive disorders lack the ability to recognize danger, have a very limited sense of fear, an attraction to things that can cause harm (i.e. water, railroad tracks, and busy intersections), and a very high tolerance to pain in some instances. That can be a lethal combination when you consider the developmental issues the person has as well. I am going to share some statistics with you if you do not mind.
1 out of every 110 children have Autism, 92% of those children have the tendency to wander away, and the leading cause of death for an individual who has Autism is drowning. There have been over 6 deaths of Autistic children in the past 4 months alone.
This is very disturbing, especially when you are made aware of the resources that are already available to communities such as: The Take Me Home Program, A Child is Missing, Project Life Saver, LifePROTEKT etc… but knowledge of these programs just does not seem to be widespread enough, or they are not implemented until it is too late and a community finds itself devastated by the death of a small child who has wandered away and drowned or been struck by an oncoming car, or lost for several days and died from starvation or exposure.
The goal of the Mason Allen Medlam Foundation is to get a national alert passed called the Mason Alert which would integrate and expand upon the existing alert systems. We have a petition that has been in place since the beginning of August and have already gathered thousands of signatures from every state and many other countries. All of them are from people just like the Medlam’s, each with their own story of fear, desperation and worry over the safety of their children.
I would like to share a little about the Mason Alert and the differences between it and the current Alerts that are already in place.
We want the Mason Alert to immediately provide authorities with the following:
A current picture of the missing person.Missing person’s address and Contact information.
Their fascinations: i.e. railroads, small spaces, water, ect.Locations of all nearby hazards such as tracks, pools, ponds, abandoned houses, busy intersections.
Notify if the missing person is verbal or nonverbal. In most case, the parent or caregiver could be standing right beside an individual with a cognitive disorder like autism and not recieve any response at all.
How the missing person 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 missing person and who needs to approach the missing person. In some instances, authorities will just have to immediately react if the missing person 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.
The Mason Alert would be issued for those who are prone to wandering and do not have the capacity to recognize dangerous situations. The Mason alert would be issued for anyone of any age that has diminished mental capacities and meet the above criteria.
How is the Mason Alert different from the Amber Alert?
This is the criteria for the Amber Alert:
Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place.
The child must be at risk of serious injury or death.
There must be sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor's vehicle to issue an alert The child must be 18 years old or younger.
How is the Mason Alert Different from the Silver Alert?
This is the criteria for the Silver Alert:
Some states limit Silver Alerts to persons over the age of 65, who have been medically diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, dementia or similar mental disability.
Other states expand Silver Alert to include all adults with mental or developmental disabilities.
In general, the decision to Issue a Silver Alert is made by the law enforcement agency investigating the report of a missing person. Public information in a Silver Alert usually consists of the name and description of the missing person and a description of the missing person's vehicle and license plate number.
We strongly believe that all the current alerts that are in place are necessary, but they just do not cover the growing population of mentally impaired individuals that are prone to wandering or elopement and are unable to recognize danger in it's many forms. We believe that the Mason Alert covers a broader group of people and arms first responders with all of the information that they instantly need to make an educated rescue plan for these vulnerable citizens. These are our children, our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers that need this protection. We are their only voice and advocate, so it becomes our responsibility to ensure that we have done all that is humanly possible to protect them by getting the Mason Alert passed into law, educating first responders, and utilizing technologies as they come available to protect our loved ones. I ask only that you pick up the torch no matter where you live, or even whether or not you have a family member who is in danger. We are one in humanity and so your neighbor's burden is also your burden to bear. I can tell you from personal experience that the loss of someone due to wandering effects an entire community.
By the way, it is important for all of you to note that there is absolutely no protection for anyone with a cognitive disorder between the ages of 19 and 64. Neither the Amber Alert or Silver Alert would apply. That leaves a lot of vulnerable people defenseless since their disorders do not just disappear at the age of 18.
We also will be speaking at the IACC conference in Maryland later this month about this topic. I appreciate you taking the time to read this email and just ask that you give some consideration to the statistics, the current alerts that are in place, and the real need for a more advanced alert to protect the most venerable and defenseless citizens amongst us.
Thank you so much,
Karen L. Snyder, RN
Director of Operations
Mason Allen Medlam Foundation for Autism Safety