PORTLAND (WGME) — A terrifying situation is how some parents of children with disabilities explain the moment their child wanders off.
“It is something that, at this point, is a constant fear,” said Maeghan Swanson, mother of an 11-year-old son who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. “That lack of understanding of safety is a huge concern for us if he were to wander.”
Autism Society of Maine Executive Director Cathy Dionne said she is concerned there isn’t something already in place that could help save some lives.
As it stands, Maine has no public safety alert system when someone with intellectual or developmental disabilities goes missing.
“Right now there’s a gap in Maine,” said Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Aroostook.
Stewart and other lawmakers are now trying to incorporate into Maine’s Silver Alert system a new alert specific to when people with disabilities go missing.
“So that we can be preventative and not reactive once a tragedy has occurred,” Stewart said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 54 children is diagnosed with autism. Nearly half of them wander or bolt from safety, and drowning is the No. 1 cause of death.
Nearly seven years ago, a north Waterboro teen with a mild form of autism, drowned after wandering from his home. It took game wardens nine days to find his body.
Some say a statewide public alert system could have saved his life.
“The more eyes we have the more they understand these behaviors the better we are,” Dionne said.
“It may come down to minutes in some of these cases and it may save a life,” said Swanson.
The legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Wednesday.