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Having detailed information can help save kids with autism

Published: May. 2, 2021 at 7:57 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Tom Barnett and Beth Winters want to let parents of autistic children know that there is a tool that can make it easier to find their kids if they wander off. Beth has an autistic son, and Tom owns Tom’s Drawing Board, the first autistic-friendly business in Rhinelander.

When they heard of a teen on the spectrum who had wandered from his home and ultimately died of exposure, they wanted to do something to address the issue. Their chief of police told them that having a missing persons form filled out in advance saves time and makes sure that all necessary details of the child are available for searchers.

“It just absolutely broke my heart, that this child is out there non-verbal, wandering around not knowing where to go or what to do. It just really struck home with me,” Barnett said.

Winters is no stranger to the idea that her son can become distracted, and makes sure he knows the importance of others being able to help him.

“If I go missing, then my mom can use that information so that she can help put together a search party to help find me,” said Drake Winters.

Winters said when it comes to children with autism, it is not a matter of if they will wander off, it is more likely when.

“‘As a parent, I want to know what I can do to help them get out there faster to find my child,” she said.

Barnett is deeply rooted in supporting the community of people affected by autism. He understands that because people with autism think differently, it takes different tactics to find them when they wander off.

“We’re trying to get the word out there to the families that maybe you should go talk to the local rescue department or the police department and get all the information that you can to find out so just in case it does happen to you, you know exactly what you need to do,” he said.

Winters said that having the forms already filled out can save an hour of valuable time in finding a child that has wandered away. It can also inform searchers of the child’s individual needs, such as if they are non-verbal or afraid of dogs.

Most law enforcement bodies can provide the forms to parents so they know what information is necessary.

Barnett and Winters say the forms shouldn’t be filed away where they might be misplaced. They recommend taping them to the inside of a kitchen cabinet so you can get them at a moment’s notice.

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