Special Needs - When Amendments are Necessary

My boys, ages 10 and 7
My boys, ages 10 and 7

The Story That Got Me Started

At the end of this past summer a boy named John Fulton went missing in Grand Forks, B.C., Canada. He was a 12 year old Autistic boy who had last been seen sitting on his front steps reading a manual to a game he'd just gotten. His mother, when reporting the boy missing, stressed to the police that he was Special Needs and because of this there were certain things he just simply would not have done. He didn't wear his shoes when he left, he didn't take his bike. The two things he never would of gone anywhere without. Especially the shoes. These two things made her sure that he had been abducted. They simply went against his nature because of his Autism.

Limited to the laws and policies in place, with no abductor information, the police were unable to initiate Amber Alerts. Search and Rescue, for the same reasons, were not activated for more than 20 hours after John was reported missing, though a ground search of the neighborhood was conducted by police and some volunteers. Suspicions were raised when a woman, Kimberly Ruth Noyes, who was a neighbor, refused to open her door to speak with them. Regardless of their intuitions, again they said their hands were tied by the laws that are in place and could not enter the residence at that point without permission. That was the evening he went missing.

The next night they went back to question the woman again and gain entry legally, with or without her consent, to her townhouse. Upon entering they discovered that she had taken off, but found the body of John Fulton in her basement. The next morning she was apprehended in an elementary school playground.

The Glitch

“We feel strongly that any child with autism should automatically qualify as an Amber Alert. Autism is a disorder which impacts normal brain development leaving most individuals with communication problems, difficulty with typical social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour,” the statement said.

“Our family knew there was no way John could have run away, because his autism would not have allowed him to go out of his comfort zone. We do understand why an Amber Alert cannot be issued every time a preteen is missing for a few hours, however Johnny was not a typical preteen,”

These are statements released by John Fulton's family after the discovery of their sons body at a neighbors house. Personally, having a 12 year old Autistic son myself (who coincidentally has the same build, complexion and height as John), this really hit home with me. I could not fathom how a Special Needs child going missing wouldn't qualify for every emergency service out there. So I started investigating and this is some of what I found out.

According to the RCMP website in relations to Amber Alerts, these are the Criteria:

  • The victim is under the age of 18
  • Police have reasonable grounds to believe that the victim has been abducted.
  • Police have reasonable grounds to believe the victim is in imminent danger.
  • Police have obtained enough descriptive information about the victim, abductor and/or the vehicle involved.
  • Police believe that the alert can be issued in a time frame that will provide a reasonable expectation that the child can be returned or the abductor apprehended.

The website states that all the criteria must be met before an Amber Alert will be issued. From what I've been able to find out, Search and Rescue are set into action by the RCMP's request, who themselves have a set of criteria that must be met. Needless to say, John Fulton did not meet all these criteria. As a matter of fact, the police believe that he only met one. Being under the age of 18.

The reasoning behind these criteria when these programs were set in place was established on some very sound arguments. With over 60,000 kids going missing in Canada in 2007, for example, only 53 of those turned out to be abductions and over 46,000 of those were confirmed runaways. To do an Amber Alert for every child that has potentially just wandered off or runaway would bog down the system and more than likely start to desensitize communities to them. Until you can prove they aren't runaways, how can you prove imminent danger? I understand that, it makes sense.

Here's the glitch. These criteria and statistics are based on normal functioning children. Not to say that these kids don't have issues, but I searched for how many of those kids were Special Needs and was told by the RCMP who published the stats that there were no studies done on that area. I did my own search online and could only come up with a news article of one individual, from Ontario, who was an adult with Special Needs. How is using this system for Special Needs kids going to bog it down? How could the fact that they're Autistic not dictate the fact that they are in danger? This past year, 2 Autistic boys have gone missing. John Fulton and another little boy on the east coast who did wander out of his yard, following the family dog into the woods. They both died.

When those parents said that their son never would of left the house without his shoes, they meant it and I know that first hand what they are talking about. One of the traits of Autism is something they classify as "Tactile". This means that they are very into textures, how things feel, to such an extent that a simple touch of something can give them complete solace or throw them into a full blown tantrum. My own son will not go outside without shoes on either. He doesn't like how it feels on his feet and simply will refuse to the point of causing a scene. It also affects their diet, it can be that consuming to them. My son has a strong aversion to anything "mushy" and wouldn't even try ice cream until he was 9. He had to leave the table if anyone was eating it, it grossed him out that bad. When my youngest was starting on baby food and Thomas was 4, he would literally throw up if he saw Josh put that stuff into his mouth.

Those are some pretty basic examples of how profoundly these things can affect these kids. When those parents said he would not walk outside without his shoes, he simply wouldn't have. When they said their son would not just leave the home without saying something, it's the same thing. Autism dictates these things and my own son would never leave the house without asking either.

It goes against their own personal structure, which is the glue that holds them together. Routine, structure and familiarity. New routines and ideas do not incorporate easily into these kids' lives and take much work and involvement to establish. If they aren't wanderers, then they won't wander. But on the off chance they did wander off like that other little boy, are they not still in danger? These kids often can not communicate effectively, comprehend things or situations and can be extremely unaware of dangers around them.

Their greatest learning tool is experience and when you do your best as a parent to have them not experience danger, it's hard to teach the concept. My own son is fairly oblivious in parking lots to vehicles, not that we haven't taught him that they can seriously hurt him if not kill him, it's just that he doesn't comprehend "dead" and "broken bones" to the level of reality that other 12 year old's would. He's never been dead or had a broken bone, so he can't imagine how that would be, which doesn't instill that self preservation/fear of danger in many of them, unfortunately.

What Amendments Can Be Made?

Amendments need to be made to these existing criteria. These kids are here and the lack of regard towards them shows when a situation like John Fulton's arises. They need our protection and our voices.

The biggest thing people can do to start is talk about this, raise awareness. Excuses can't be made when the public is educated is my own personal opinion on the matter. So, that is the goal. To raise awareness to these things. Talk about it people! At work, at home, to the neighbor over the fence while mowing the lawn, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems to spread faster than a story that starts off with, "You know what I heard the other day......"

Near the top of the page is a link to an online petition to have these laws amended in British Columbia, Canada. Unfortunately, the scope of who this petition can affect is limited to BC, therefore only the signatures of BC residents will be counted. However, feel free to copy and paste the petition to start one for your own area. And regardless of where you live, these flaws exist in every demographic so awareness again is the key.

Spread the word, sign the petition if you can, and lets get these things changed for the protection of those who can't protect themselves. 

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Comments 2 comments

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

This is a very sad story. Of course, exceptions should be made for special needs children. The idea that your child is missing and the police won't even take the best steps to aid in their recovery is reprehensible. I hope that law will be changed. This is a well written hub.

G.L.A. profile image

G.L.A. 5 years ago from Arizona

Unfortunately it seems that 'special needs' childen not only suffer from their own inflictions, but also from an uncaring, unsympathetic, and at the very least, apathetic society. It appears that our local, as well as our national 'leaders', find it easier, (and definately less costly), to look the other way. However, as the ratio of inflictions such as autism continue to skyrocket, and begin infiltrating 'their' families, 'perhaps' the rest of us peons, and our special needs children will FINALLY be recognized.

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