AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH: Don’t turn your back! Part I: Children

By DENNIS A. BROWN II

(In the first of a two-part series we learn how neglecting children with autism can be serious and can lead to tragedy. One incident in Michigan led to the closing of a government organization.)

When it comes to children having autism, protection is extremely vital.

Children with autism may wander away without the parents knowing if the child will return safe. An Oct. 8, 2012, report from Autism Speaks says that 49 percent of children with autism tried running away from a safe environment after turning 4 with more than half being reported missing. About 24 percent of children with autism nearly drowned.

The National Autism Association reports that 91 percent of the reported deaths of children with autism ages 14 and younger were from accidental drowning from 2009 to 2011. About 50 percent of families with children with autism who run away say they were lacking advice about runaways.

Here’s an incident involving a child with autism that led to tragedy:
On July 4, 2015, 9-year-old Omarion Humphrey, who had autism, was with a foster family at the Lake Callis Recreation Complex in Davison Township  when he wandered into a fenced-in splash pad about 50 feet away from a picnic area. Video surveillance showed Omarion walking towards the splash pad before walking out of view. He was reported missing nearly an hour later. Omarion’s lifeless body was seen floating in a lake six days later.

Omarion and 10 of his siblings were placed into foster care by Alternatives for Children & Families Inc. of Burton. An investigation revealed that Omarion’s foster mother lacked training in dealing with children who had autism. Several days after Omarion was reported missing, a representative from Alternatives told an Oakland County Probate Court judge that the foster parent was warned by park employees that they needed to keep a better eye on him.

Michigan’s Department of Health & Human Services recommended the revocation of Alternatives’ license. Alternatives surrendered its license and ceased operations nearly one year after the incident.
In a 2017 column, I stated that one in five children with autism are subjected to abuse and neglect. According to Child Welfare, the March 2012 edition of The Risk and Prevention of Maltreatment of Children with Disabilities says that 57.4 percent of children with disability are subjected to neglect.

Signs include frequent absence from school, begging for or stealing food or money, lacking medical care, being consistently dirty, failing to wear proper clothing for weather, abusing alcohol or drugs, or saying that nobody’s home. The signs of a parent or caregiver being negligent include behaving irrationally or bizarre, being indifferent to the child, drug or alcohol abuse, depression.

Here’s a story about a child who was subjected to constant neglect:

Beginning in 2011 an 11-year-old girl with severe autism in Tulsa, Okla., was subjected to “chronic neglect” by her mother Ruth Godinez. On Jan. 17, 2016, a police officer noticed the girl walking alone in cold weather without protective clothing. The officer also noticed bruises on her body. The girl said that she was afraid to go home due to abuse. What the officer noticed was that the girl was living in deplorable conditions that included a urine-soaked mattress. A court affidavit said a physician also noticed sores on her body.  Police also said that 20 calls were placed to Department of Human Services to investigate the claims of abuse and neglect.

Godinez was convicted of child neglect and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Defense attorney Marvin Lizama called the sentence “excessive” for only one count of child neglect.

It’s understandable that a parent or guardian can’t keep an eye on the children 24 hours a day. But children with autism are ill-equipped
in handling serious situations by themselves. It’s the parents’ responsibility to keep them safe and sound. Parents need to thoroughly learn how to
handle special needs children because negligence can lead to disaster and possible tragedy.

(Next week, the numbers can show how turning your backs on adults with autism also can be serious. A nationally television news magazine showed two examples of it.)

(Dennis A. Brown II is originally from Louisville, Ky., and currently lives in Dearborn. He currently is a junior clerk in the Treasurer’s Office for the city of Melvindale. He was diagnosed with autism at 17 and with severe Asperger’s syndrome at 35. He is a former radio broadcaster and volunteers his time and effort by writing, recording, and producing a series of public service announcements about autism awareness for non-commercial radio stations.)