WASHINGTON - It's not uncommon for Montgomery County police to get two calls a week about someone with autism who is missing.
That's one reason why the department is holding an open house event called "Autism Night Out" from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, May 30.
The aim is to help the community learn more about autism and how police respond when someone is missing. Advocates for people with autism explain that wandering off is a common behavior, and because people—especially children with the condition— have a tendency to gravitate toward water, the risk of drowning is high.
For that reason, Montgomery County Police Officer Laurie Reyes urges parents or caregivers to call police as soon as a child or loved one goes missing. "Don't wait to call 911. Take a deep breath, be calm, and don't hesitate to call us. We're here to help."
Officer Reyes says parents of children with autism may want to keep a "911 script" handy. It should have vital information about your child and tips on behaviors or things that calm the child, or things that frighten him or her. Reyes explains the value of having the information at your fingertips BEFORE you need it by describing her own reaction when her child got lost at a water park. "Even as a police officer, I forgot basic information because I was stressed."
On their website, Montgomery County Police provide a template for what Reyes calls a "neighbor letter." She explains, "It has a little bit of information about what they should do should they encounter the child out and about alone." Reyes says it can be hard for parents to reach out to neighbors in that way, but that parents can offer as much or as little information as they like. "You can make it specific to your child so that neighbors are truly educated and know how they can assist you in your time of crisis."
You can meet K-9 search officers, see demonstrations of equipment, talk with advocates on autism and more.
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