Teacher Professor

April 16, 2010

Autism as Lifesaver?

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 11:43 am

I have been absolutely riveted by the story about Nadia Bloom, the little girl with Aspergers who was lost for four days.  She lives not far from me, about 2 hours, and so the environment is not too different from one in which my children play.  For several days, the news media was running stories about how she had gone missing- and it was so similar to the story about Somer Thompson, another regional little girl who went missing and was found dead in a trash pile near us. 

Because of this story, the news ran another story about a mother, also in Florida, who is using a transmitter that looks like a watch, through Project Lifesaver.  Available through a certified local police department to people with autism and Alzheimers and other conditions where they are apt to wander off, Project Lifesaver provides a bracelet that can be worn and then tracked by police if necessary.  It’s a wonderful program for “runners”- those folks who do not have the capacity to stare down their source of stress, but must run away from it.  I highly recommend it if there the program is in your area and you have a family member who would qualify. 

But I’m not sure that Nadia would have qualified for such a device. 

I find myself a little bit annoyed about the timing of the second story.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t keep an eye on your child.  But they were inferring that Nadia’s mother should have kept an eye on her BECAUSE she had Aspergers.  So much of it depends on the child. Eleven years old IS old enough to be out riding your bike- for some kids.  If we control too much, our children never learn independence.  And having a child with a disability means that we are especially conscious of helping our children learn to be independent- if that is a possibility for them.  Independence is a goal that has to be taught.

Getting lost has more to do with being young and making foolish choices than it does with autism.   How many children were lost those days that Nadia was out there?  It’s horrible and scary to think about- but many of those stories don’t make national news.  I would argue that Nadia’s Aspergers didn’t contribute to her getting lost, but had a whole lot to do with her getting found. 

And this is where I really start to ponder.  My imagination kicks into overdrive at the description of where she was- surrounded by alligator-infested waters, eaten by gnats, and live oak trees dripping in Spanish moss.  It’s the stuff of gothic horror movies.  Did you know that alligators can hiss, growl and bellow?  Can you imagine four days in such a place?  I would be out of my mind in terror- and run, shrieking, right into the mouth of one of the waiting beasts, I would imagine. 

But not Nadia.  She sat down and planned.  She waited for someone to find her.  She tried to use her shirt to wave for attention, but couldn’t get high enough.  And she waited. 

I think that her Aspergers SAVED her.  Her lack of imagination meant that she did not hear footsteps and alligators coming to get her in the middle of the night.  Her lack of emotionality meant that she did not break down hysterically and make foolish choices.  Her highly-focused interest in photography meant that she took some lovely pictures while she was waiting. 

I’m glad that she was found.  All mothers are glad when a child is found.  But I’m proud of how she survived, and I’m betting that her autism literally saved her life.


  1. I completely understand your thoughts about the search for Nadia Bloom. I am the Director of Media & Communications at Project Lifesaver – and I have been on the phone all week with reporters who are calling asking about the program. Nadia would have qualified for the program – anyone with a medical condition that may cause them to wander is qualified – Alzheimer’s, autism, dementia, Asperger syndrome, Down syndrome, etc. The program is to help law enforcement have a pro-active way of finding a child or adult who may wander due to a medical reason.

    Project Lifesaver trains agencies on how to search for individuals who become lost by utilizing search and rescue techniques and equipment, as well as how to interact with individuals once they are found to help facilitate a safe escort home. Clients enrolled in the program wear a small, wrist-watch sized radio transmitter than emits a tracking signal, and should the individual wander, public safety agencies are able to rapidly locate them.

    Should anyone have any additional questions, please call us at 877-580-LIFE, visit us at http://www.projectlifesaver.org, or email me at cplatz@projectlifesaver.org. Thanks!

    Comment by Christine — April 16, 2010 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

  2. I’m so glad to hear from you! It sounded such an awesome program from the media reports! I’m glad that just HAVING Aspergers would allow her to have it, but not all children with Aspergers NEED such a system…. and from what I gathered, it sounded like she was fairly high functioning. Now, I don’t know her, of course, but from what her mother has said, “running” was not one of her issues.

    I think she just got lost… as kids who are making bad judgments do.

    I just don’t want parents to get overly protective and lose the goal of independence… If your child or family member is at risk of getting lost, by all means- this could be a lifesaver- literally. I also don’t want parents to get complacent with such a fabulous devise and stop monitoring. But I want us to be able to teach our children how to leave us.

    And I do believe her Aspergers has a lot to do with why she was found…

    Comment by profmother — April 16, 2010 @ 2:02 pm | Reply

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