Montgomery Co. police locate 6 people with autism who wandered off on same day

In just one day, police in Montgomery County, Maryland, located six people with autism who had wandered off.

According to officer Laurie Reyes, in all six unrelated cases on Monday, police located the individuals who had wandered off before caregivers had called to report their loved one was missing.

Reyes was the driving force in creating the Montgomery County Police Autism/Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Alzheimer’s and Dementia Outreach Unit, which tackles a variety of calls.

Reyes said it’s not uncommon for people with autism, no matter their age, to wander off.

“This can happen to incredible caregivers,” Reyes said. “And that’s important for the community to know so that we all work together to help those individuals who may have a propensity to wander.”

In two of the cases, individuals entered the homes of nearby neighbors.

Reyes said that’s one of the reasons the unit recommends writing a “neighbor letter,” giving a neighbor a little bit of background about the person with autism and their situation. But Reyes told WTOP she tells caregivers to do so only if they feel comfortable.

In her account of Monday’s events on the unit’s Facebook page, Reyes wrote, “We know these wandering incidents can happen, we know you can’t be on your A game as a caregiver all the time.”

She advised caregivers to call immediately if a loved one wanders off.

She added that it’s helpful if caregivers can make sure their loved one has identification on them at all times. In some cases, an ID bracelet can work. But Reyes added, “We know there’s challenges in keeping any type of bracelet on an individual who has maybe sensory challenges due to autism.”

Other strategies include using a permanent marker to write contact information on clothing tags or including that information on a shoe tag.

Reyes said the unit she helped create has been around for 20 years, and urged residents — whether family members or neighbors — to call police when an individual wanders off.

“Call 911 right away so that we can assist you in returning your loved one back to you right away,” she said.

More recommendations for caregivers from the Autism/IDD, Alzheimer’s and Dementia Outreach Unit:

  • Install an alarm if possible, to alert when a loved one may have left home.
  • Reach out to neighbors for support.
  • Create a 911 script that you can refer to if you need to call for help. That should include locations that a loved one may gravitate to when they leave home.
  • Try to make sure your loved one has identification on them at all times.
  • Don’t hesitate to call 911.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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