Half of All Autistic Kids Will Run Away, Tragedy Often Follows

Girls More Likely to Die

Calls to Alyvia's grandmother Valerie Navarro were not returned.

Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism, but girls, like Alyvia, are twice more likely than boys to die after an elopement, according to Lori McIlwain, executive director of the National Autism Association, which tracks eloping incidents and deaths.

READ MORE: Kids With Autism 'Fall Off the Cliff' After Graduation

In 2012, 195 autistic children went missing, according to the autism association, which only tracks those incidents reported by the media.

Between 2009 and 2011, 91 percent of autistic children younger than 14 died in drowning incidents after elopements. More than two-thirds of those deaths occurred in small natural bodies of water like creeks, lakes, rivers and ponds.

"Oftentimes, children who go missing are low or nonverbal," McIlwain said. "But they know where a pond is. They see it from the car going to and from school every day, but they can't tell mom or dad that they want go to the pond and play. They think about it and when they have the chance, they bolt."

It's a story all too familiar to Beth Martin, a single mother with three kids, whose 7-year-old daughter Savannah drowned in a pond near her Lawton, Okla., home in 2011.

"My daughter loved Ramen noodles," Martin said, remembering the Sunday morning that her daughter died. "I knew I had exactly four minutes. Typically, she would stare for four minutes, watching the noodles cook. I popped my head outside to tell my oldest, who's 11, to watch my youngest, who's 2, because I was going to run to the bathroom. I thought it was safe to go to bathroom."

'I Couldn't Get Them Both Out of the Water'

Before the noodles finished cooking, Savannah and her younger brother were gone.

"They both were missing," Martin said. "I asked the oldest where they went, but he didn't know. I panicked and looked all over the house and yard. I kept calling their names. I ran to the highway and then to our neighbors to ask if they had seen them. I asked my son to wait by the house and he came running to say he could hear them screaming."

By the time Martin made it to the half-filled pond on the edge of her property, Savannah was under the water. Her younger brother, who had been wearing a padded bicycle helmet, was kept barely afloat by its buoyancy.

"I couldn't get them both out of the water. … I started to panic and the neighbor jumped in to pull them out," Martin remembered. "I just collapsed after that."

Martin was a conscientious mother. When Savannah was born, doctors told her that her daughter would never talk or say, "I love you, mommy." Martin worked with her religiously, and the girl had begun talking. She even knew the lyrics to her favorite Taylor Swift songs.

She had enrolled Savannah in kindergarten, registered her for swim lessons, was looking to install alarms in case she ever ran off, and made a point to teach her daughter the boundaries on the property.

"I thought I had spoken with all kinds of experts about raising a child with Savannah's needs. But I was never told about wandering or about the likelihood of drowning. No expert ever told me that," Martin said.

In that way, Martin is like the majority of parents raising children with autism.

Sixty percent of parents are unaware of the likelihood that their child will elope or the subsequent risks of death, according to a survey by the National Autism Association.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children works with law enforcement agencies across the country to train cops on how best to search for children with autism.

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