Autism awareness: 'He would just wander right out the door'

EUGENE, Ore. - Michelle Perino knows firsthand that children on the autism spectrum are prone to wandering off without notice.

"You don't know your child is a flight risk," said Perino, whose son has autism, "until they are standing in the middle of the street.

"He wasn't trying to get away," she said. "It was almost like his mind was just wandering, and he would just wander right out the door."

Children with autism are known flight risks. Fourteen kids have died this year as a result from wandering, according to The Associated Press.

Because of the dangers, new preventative efforts are being put into place, like tracking chips on braclets and GPS on cell phones.

National groups are pushing for awareness of the issue. Nationwide, 1 in 88 children fall on the autism spectrum.

The issue is even more pressing in Lane County, said Patricia Wigney at Bridgeway House, an autism resource center.

"Educationally, there is about 1 in 58 in Lane County," she said.

Wigney said there are many reasons why children with autism bolt: they may feel overwhelmed, become disoriented or get distracted.

Perino urged the community not to judge, but to help.

"I've had other people yell at me, saying you need to pay better attention to you child, when they don't realize it only takes a fraction of a second and they're out of there," she said. "With autism, it's hard every day. Every day it's hard."