Parents of Sons With Autism Win a Major Battle With School

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Dayann and Brian McDonough’s sons, 10-year-old Douglass and 8-year-old Donovan, both have autism and are prone to elopement. The boys wandered away from home and school a total of 14 times over the last two years, and after installing alarms and extra locks on their family home, the McDonoughs had their children wear GPS tracking devices.

Elopement, or wandering, is a daily challenge for many parents of children with autism — 49 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a tendency to wander or bolt from safe settings, according to the National Autism Association.

While the tracking devices allowed the McDonoughs to breathe a sigh of relief, the boys’ schools refused to let Donovan and Douglass wear the trackers on campus. “We were blindsided,” Brian McDonough told NBC New York. “They didn’t want to listen to common sense.”

“I haven’t slept in my own bed for about the past four years because I’m so terrified he’s going to run off and I’m not going to hear him in time,” Dayann McDonough added to ABC 7 Eyewitness News.

The schools claimed GPS devices could threaten the confidentiality of other students, but after a month of discussions, the McDonoughs finally convinced the school district to allow their boys to wear trackers to class.

Parents attach the trackers to their child’s clothing, and the devices are connected to an app called AngelSense. The tracker can only be removed with a magnetic key, and it sends parents alerts on the whereabouts of their children. It also has a “listen in” feature that allows parents to hear real time audio of what their child is doing.

David Feller, superintendent of North Merrick school district, where Donovan is a student, told NBC New York. “We would not put up any roadblocks to a device designed to ensure a child’s safety.”

I feel very safe,” Douglass McDonough told ABC 7 Eyewitness News.

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A Heartbreaking Loss Has Sparked an Effort to Keep Kids With Autism Safe

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Just before 1 a.m. on Oct. 28, the body of 3-year-old Cameron Thomas was found in the wetlands near his family’s home in Chesapeake, Virginia. Cameron, who had autism, is believed to have exited the home through a window shortly after 6 p.m., according to WAVY News.

A local search party found the child, and the following day a spokesperson for the Chesapeake Police confirmed Cameron’s cause of death was drowning.

Cameron’s father, Cody Thomas, spoke with 13News Now about how the family is coping with the tragedy. “I’m going to miss him every day for the rest of my life,” Thomas said. “I don’t think there’s gonna be a minute that goes by that I don’t think about him. Same with his mom.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family with funeral costs, and any leftover donations will be given to other families of children with autism who deal with elopement. So far $13,950 has been raised, with the original target of $10,000.

“All remaining proceeds will go to helping the autism chapter of Hampton Roads get GPS trackers for families who can’t afford them, so this never happens to another child again,” the page reads.

Elopement, or wandering, is a daily struggle for many parents of children with autism — 49 percent of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a tendency to wander or bolt from safe settings, according to the National Autism Association. Drowning is a leading cause of death in children with ASD, accounting for approximately 90 percent of fatalities.

Many families say they haven’t received professional advice or guidance aboout elopement, but a number of resources exist. Autism Speaks provides a list with a number of GPS tracking devices on the “Safety Products” section of its website, and clothing company Independence Day Wearable Tech sells apparel implanted with trackers.

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Applebee’s Will Finally Pay Employee With Autism

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Caleb Dyl made headlines earlier this month when a reporter uncovered that the 21-year-old had worked at an Applebee’s restaurant in Middletown, Rhode Island, for nearly a year without getting paid. After dozens of news outlets then covered the story, a rep from the restaurant confirmed Dyl will finally be compensated for all 480 of the hours he worked, WPRI reported.

Dyl, who has autism, was placed at the job by social service agency Resources for Human Development (RHD). He took on an unpaid position for nearly a year in Applebee’s training program. After that, the restaurant reportedly agreed to hire him as a part-time worker in August 2014. Dyl’s parents then filled out the appropriate forms for direct deposit and W-4, but he never received a paycheck. When the family inquired about this, they were informed the paperwork was lost, so they filled out another set of forms.

When the story broke, Applebee’s agreed to pay Dyl 166 hours in backpay — the number of hours they said RHD records indicated Dyl had worked. However, his parents claimed the total was closer to 480. The Dyls were told the discrepancy was the result of their son not clocking in — something his case worker should have helped him do, WPRI reported.

Though the restaurant has now agreed to pay Dyl for the full 480 hours, the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals is still investigating the incident.

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Internet Rallies to Remove Facebook Page Linking People With Autism to Shootings

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The autism community is in an uproar about the fact that Facebook has yet to confirm removal of the group page “Families Against Autistic Shooters.”

Though Forbes reported the page was taken down on Sunday, it was online again on Monday morning, only to appear down again by Monday afternoon.

In a screenshot of the Facebook page, posted on the popular autism awareness blog “Ask An Aspie,” one can see that the page’s description read, “What do all shooters over the last few years have in common? A lack of empathy and compassion due to Autism!” According to Forbes, one post on the page made a remark about “the soulless, dead eyes of autistic children,” calling them “cold, calculating killing machines with no regard for human life!”

The hateful page gained attention over the weekend, after several news outlets reported the gunman who killed nine people at an Oregon community college on October 1, had attended Switzer Learning Center in Torrence, California, a school for students with “moderate to severe learning disabilities, emotional issues, attention problems, and behavioral disorders,” including autism spectrum disorder. Authorities have not confirmed that the gunman had autism.

There is currently an online petition on Change.org pushing for the permanent removal of the Facebook page, along with a handful of Facebook groups protesting the page, including “Families against the page ‘Families Against Autistic Shooters.‘”

After reporting the Facebook page for displaying hate speech, Ask An Aspie received a response from Facebook, saying the page did not violate their community standards. The full response read:

Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the Page you reported for containing hate speech or symbols and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards. Note: If you have an issue with something on the page, be sure to report the content (ex: a photo), not the entire page. That way, your report will be more accurately reviewed.

In the Community Standards section of Facebook, the social network states that it wants “people to feel safe when they use Facebook,” adding that content that attacks people based on, among other things, “serious disabilities or diseases,” will be removed.

Facebook has yet to respond to The Mighty’s request for a comment.

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Mom Writes Touching Note to Cop Who Knew How to Help Her Son With Autism

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A mom in South Carolina wrote a touching thank you message to the highway patrolman who helped her and her son Jeriah, who has autism, when the two were recently stranded on a busy freeway.

The mother, who would like to remain anonymous, expressed how grateful she is in an e-mail sent to Trooper/Lance Cpl. Adam Klimek.

Officer Klimek stopped to help the family when their vehicle broke down on Highway 170 in Beaufort County, and after realizing that Jeriah was stressed out, he knew just what to do.

Not only was it over 90 degrees outside, but Jeriah was getting visibly anxious about the traffic flying by on the road. After helping Jeriah and his mom safely get out of their vehicle, Klimek invited the two inside his patrol car so they could cool off while they waited for the tow truck. Jeriah’s mom says it was around that time that Klimek recognized that her son has autism.

Klimek gave Jeriah a computer and let him watch “Curious George,” and after the tow truck arrived, Klimek offered Jeriah his hat and badge. Jeriah’s mom was able to breathe a sigh of relief, and she joked that Jeriah was having so much fun, he didn’t want to go home.

“[Officer Klimek] also told [Jeriah] that he was officially a patrolman and to make sure that everyone in the car always buckle their seatbelt,” Jeremiah’s mom wrote. “My son had a grin on his face about that.”

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety later shared an excerpt of the mother’s thank you note on Facebook.

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South Carolina Department of Public Safety

In a copy of the e-mail sent to The Mighty, Jeriah’s mom wrote:

Today has been a very trying day. I was traveling with my son home who has autism and our SUV shut off on a very busy highway. If any of you know highway 170 it can be extremely dangerous when it’s time for people to go to work or when they are getting off from work. So of course today was about 92 degrees and I was stuck actually in the road. I called for roadside assistance and they dial 9-1-1 since I was in a dangerous situation. My son was sitting in the seat nearest the highway and getting very antsy.

About 10 minutes later a South Carolina State Trooper came to our rescue. His name is Patrolman Adam Klimek, but to my son he was just officer Adam. After talking and laughing together for about 20 minutes he invited my son and I to get inside his SUV so that we could cool off. Not only that he recognized that my son has autism and was getting upset. He took his electronic device and signed in to Netflix so that my son could watch Curious George. This worked perfectly because it helped him focus on something else. He had been sick that day and just wanted to go home. My son was very happy and of course this was an experience that we will never forget.

After he got us safely off the road and the tow truck came to get our car, officer Adam as my son called him took us to a safe area and I asked if it was okay for him to take a picture with my son. He even offered to let my son wear his official hat and gave him a badge. He also told him that he was officially a patrolman and to make sure that everyone in the car always buckle their seatbelt. My son had a grin on his face about that.

As a mother of children with special needs it is very difficult to get the world to understand what we deal with from day to day. This was a very positive experience that I’d like to share. Before officer Adam left I gave him a hug to tell him thank you so much from the bottom of my heart … He definitely saved the day. Hope you enjoy the picture of my son and officer Adam as he calls him. The funny part is that Jeriah had such a good time he didn’t want to get out of the car. He’s has new friend.

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New Film Puts the Spotlight on Important Issues With Teens and Autism

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Though this isn’t the first time a character on the autism spectrum has been the focus of a film, the latest reviews of “A Brilliant Young Mind” are leading us to believe it’s one well worth watching.

Nathan Ellis (played by Asa Butterfield) is diagnosed with autism as a young child, and by the time he’s a teen he finds his passion with numbers. He ends up joining the International Mathematics Olympiad after some encouragement from his math teacher, Martin Humphreys (Rafe Spall). Martin lives with multiple sclerosis (MS), and he serves as a wonderful mentor for Nathan, who’s coping with the recent death of his father.

If the story sounds familiar, it’s because director Morgan Matthews made a documentary, “Beautiful Young Minds,” about International Mathematical Olympiad competitors with autism in 2007. One of the participants, Daniel Lightwing, served as the inspiration for this story.

Butterfield, the film’s star, recently chatted with Time about prepping for the role, and he revealed that playing a character with autism was the number one thing that drew him in to the project.

“I didn’t know very much about people who were on the spectrum,” he told Time. “I spoke to a lot of them, met with a lot of young men who grew up on the autistic spectrum and learned about the things they had to deal with. One person in particular, called Daniel Lightwing, who my character was loosely based upon, I spoke to him for quite awhile.”

“A Brilliant Young Mind” hits theaters in the United States on September 11, 2015.

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