National Autism Association Announces the Launch of Its "Big Red Safety Box" Program to Combat Wandering

Apr 20, 2011, 10:21 ET from National Autism Association

NIXA, Mo., April 20, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In an ongoing effort to combat the rise in wandering-related tragedies and deaths within the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) community, the National Autism Association (NAA) announced today its launch of the "Big Red Safety Box Program" made possible by a generous grant from the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation. The safety box is designed to provide caregivers wandering-prevention educational materials and tools. Wandering, elopement, "running" or fleeing incidents within the autism community have led to a rise in fatalities among those with ASD.


Yesterday, authorities found the body of Blake Murrell, a four-year-old boy with autism who went missing in Payne County, Oklahoma. In 2010, ten children with autism died following a wandering incident. According to news reports, four children in the U.S. have died this year, and there are two known cases abroad. Adam Benhamama, a three-year-old boy with autism from Quebec has been missing since early April. "We see a lot of wandering-related fatalities among younger children with ASD," says NAA Executive Director Rita Shreffler. "They tend to be especially vulnerable as warmer months approach." Shreffler added that general wandering incidents within the ASD population are not uncommon. "During summer months we'll see four to five cases a week," she says.

While there has been no official tracking of wandering-related incidents involving individuals diagnosed with autism, in an online poll conducted by NAA in 2007, 92% of parent respondents said their children with autism have a tendency to wander.  A 2008 study from Denmark found that the mortality rate within the autism population is twice as high as in the general population. In 2001, a California research team attributed elevated death rates among people with autism in large part to drowning. Drowning, prolonged exposure, and other wandering-related factors remain among the top causes of death within the autism population. "People with wandering tendencies can be gone in the blink of an eye despite even the most diligent supervision," says NAA President Wendy Fournier.  "It is our hope that these safety tools and resources will better prepare caregivers to ensure that they do not experience the devastation that can result from wandering-related incidents."

The Safety Box will include educational materials, door alarms, a waterproof ID, and visual prompts to deter children and adults from exiting their homes or classrooms. Regardless of any tools caregivers may have in place, NAA says it's critical that caregivers maintain close supervision and security in all settings. "Wandering prevention takes a multi-faceted approach, and because different types of wandering exist, there is no one answer in solving this issue," added Fournier.

Those diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and who are at risk of wandering/bolting from a safe environment, qualify to receive a Big Red Safety Box while supplies allow. To apply, visit


The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation was founded in 1954 to provide other nonprofit organizations with a means to educate the public about the needs of children across the nation.  To date, they have provided over $9 million to help children in need in this country. To learn more, visit


The National Autism Association is the leading voice of the ASD wandering issue. In 2008, NAA released its first article addressing the lack of Emergency Alert System Coverage for minors with developmental disabilities through Federal AMBER Alert guidelines & State Silver Alert guidelines. Minors with autism and developmental disabilities who may wander currently do not qualify for AMBER Alerts unless a known abduction has taken place.

In 2009, NAA launched its FOUND Program, which provides funding to law enforcement agencies for tracking programs such as Project Lifesaver and LoJack SafetyNet.

In April and October of 2010, NAA brought the ASD wandering issue before the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), requesting urgent action be taken to combat wandering-related incidents in the ASD community. The group asked for data collection, federally-backed educational materials, parent outreach, assistance in obtaining AMBER Alert coverage for minors with autism, an ICD-9 medical diagnostic code dedicated to wandering, first-responder training, mandatory parental notification of wandering incidents in schools, and urgent federal support. The group also urged IACC to form a subcommittee dedicated solely to ASD safety issues. Also in 2010, NAA launched the Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts & Education (AWAARE) Collaboration and the web site as a central source for wandering-prevention information and materials.

The organization's mission is to respond to the most urgent needs of the autism community, providing real help and hope so that all affected can reach their full potential. For more information, visit

Rita Shreffler, NAA (Nixa, MO) 417-818-9030
Lori McIlwain, NAA (Cary, NC) 919-741-1646

SOURCE National Autism Association