“It’s horrible,” said Barbara Bucknam, Rockville resident. “It’s awful. You feel like you failed as a parent.”
Barbara’s 20-year old son has a tendency to wander.
“It’s a word that is used in the autism community, when an individual runs away from a safe place,” said Officer Laurie Reyes, Montgomery County Police. “They call it an elopement.”
The county police’s outreach program handles two to four cases of elopement a week.
“The program is called the Autism and IDD and Alzheimer’s, it’s a mouthful, Outreach Program,” said Reyes.
Essentially it provides a layered approach to safety.
“Education, awareness, outreach, empowerment, and follow-up, and then lastly response,” said Reyes.
These bracelets can track people up to several miles from one’s home.
It’s one of many tools used to help individuals with disabilities.
“We provide this shirt,” said Reyes. “It’s designed for those that cannot speak for themselves and are in immediate danger.”
There has been some backlash to these shirts, criticized for labeling individuals, but for John’s family, they view them as a life-saver.
“One time he eloped in January, so it was cold out,” said Barbara Bucknam. “And he went on the side of i-270, and it was probably two o’clock in the morning and a passerby, based on seeing his shirt called 911.”
Officer Reyes says individuals with autism oftentimes gravitate towards bodies of water, so calling 911 when someone is missing, is crucial.
“We are your absolute best tool,” said Reyes. “We train all of our officers on the dynamics of interacting with and searching for individuals with autism.”
You can contact Officer Reyes to learn more about autism wandering safety kits at Laurie.Reyes@montgomerycountymd.gov.
“I just think it’s a great time to thank police, not just for Project Life-Saver, but for everything that they do everyday,” said Mark Bucknam. “They’re such great public servants, and we really appreciate them.”