Last July, 5-year old Mason Medlam drowned in a pond after wandering from his home. He had autism. Wandering and drowning are leading causes of death for children with autism, who are often unaware of danger, fascinated by water, and unable to communicate.
Mason’s family has proposed the Mason Alert, a national registry of people with autism and other disabilities that would help authorities find them if they go missing.
Plans are underway for the Mason Alert questions to be integrated with an existing police program for autism wandering safety, the Take Me Home program, which contains photos and contact information for approximately 500 children and adults with autism and other disabilities in Pensacola, Florida. Approximately 250 police departments across the U.S., Canada, and England are using the Take Me Home program, which is free to any police departments that want to use it.
The information in the Mason Alert includes not only photos of children and adults with autism along with contact information, but it also lists their fascinations and interests, whether they are verbal or nonverbal, if they have any serious health concerns such as seizures, how they react under stress, how to approach them, and other information specific to the person.
The Medlam family has been raising awareness of autism wandering in the months since Mason’s death.
“Losing Mason was like losing the other half of my soul,” said Sheila Medlam, the mother of Mason. “From the very beginning we shared his story with everybody because we didn’t ever want it to happen to anybody else and we wanted to give some meaning to something so horrible.”
The Mason family also hopes to establish an alert similar to the national AMBER Alert system for missing children, or to include criteria for autism wandering into the AMBER Alert, which currently only covers abducted children.
But for now, Medlam hopes that lives will be saved because of the story of her son, the awareness that has been raised about autism wandering, and the expansion of the Take Me Home program to include the questions in the Mason Alert.
“I think every child that is saved because this is in place is a piece of my son alive,” Medlam said. “When I look in their eyes I see the same thing I saw in my son’s eyes. The same inner sense of beauty and joy and mischief, I see it in their eyes and they’re very, very, very special children and they should be protected by everybody, and with everything we have to protect them.”