Thursday, November 20, 2008
7 News Features: Autism Alert
We have the Amber Alert for abducted children, the Silver Alert for missing senior citizens, but some of our most vulnerable children have no effective special alert when they go missing, leaving parents of autistic children wondering why there is no alert for autism. Seven's Lynn Martinez has the story.
WSVN -- It is a parent's worst nightmare. Five-year-old Kaitlyn Bacile slipped out of her Wellington home last September.
Jay Bacile: "She was gone probably two minutes at the most, at the absolute most before we realized she was not in the house."
The autistic little girl was found the next morning drowned in this canal just blocks from her home.
Jay Basile: "The shadow of Kaitlyn's death reaches into places that none of us like to go."
Autistic children are fascinated with water and because of that, drowning is one of the leading causes of death. Parents of autistic children worry about it everyday.
Richard Nardiello: "My son loves water but has no fear of the water."
Three-year-old Christopher Muniz ended up in a Broward pond last April. He died four days later.
Cindy Anderson: "We need safety nets for our kids. We need them quickly. I need it now."
But the problem is, unlike the Amber Alert system for children who are abducted, programs designed to help missing autistic children are not being used consistently. The "Take Me Home" program supplies police with pictures and information of at-risk kids.
But of the 271 law enforcement agencies in Florida, only 41 use it. "A Child is Missing" is a national emergency system which can put out 1000 alert calls in one minute to a neighborhood where a child has gone missing.
Claudia Corrigan, ACIM: "It's important to get these calls out there immediately, and we can do it. You have a small window of time, it's a two to three hour, and even then, if there's water nearby, it's very, very tough."
The service is free to police, but they don't always use it. Finally, only 37 police departments in Florida have picked up a program called Project Lifesaver.
Wristbands allow rescuers to track the person wearing it, but it puts the burden on parents to pay for a $300 bracelet, and most autistic children have sensory issues and won't wear them.
Tina Brea: "This is a child that cannot communicate, that cannot understand the simple commands that others their age can, so any attention that can be brought to this the better."
Parents say a more unified alert system, like the Amber Alert is needed. Florida is looking into the issue.
Ven Sequenzia: "Something will be addressed in the recommendations to the governor. Again, I can't say what that will be at this point. The report's not due until the end of March."
And parents of these children say they hope something is resolved soon. While it's too late for Kaitlyn, her parents hope some good can come from their tragedy.
Jay Bacile: "We want Kaitlyn's life not to go in vain. At the very minimum we want to raise awareness. We just want her memory to live on and do good because that's what Kaitlyn was pure goodness."
It's estimated that one in every 150 kids are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and it occurs more often in boys than in girls.