RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – The search continues for Robert Wood Jr. More than 900 volunteer have been scouring the Doswell region of Hanover County in search of the boy. He could be facing a fourth night out in the cold.
A major challenge in the search for Robert is the fact he has autism. Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson is the Executive Director of "Act-Today" which is an autism awareness group; she is also the mother of a child with autism.
RYAN: A child about the same age as Robert; right, Nancy?
NANCY: The same age as Robert. My son Wyatt is nine. He will be ten in November, and he also was what we call an eloper or a wanderer.
RYAN: Let's talk about wandering. This is probably more common than those of us not dealing with a child with autism realize.
NANCY: It's quite common, as a matter of fact; it's been added to diagnostic manual as a symptom of autism. It's known as eloping, wandering and they bolt as well. These children will often time just take off when you least expect it and I want to really stress that if this is not bad parenting. A lot of people say how could a parent not see their child run away. I know I could have been in the kitchen and once my boy took off the front door. And by the time I turned around he was halfway down the street almost to a very dangerous intersection. I took off after him barefoot. Very, very distressing for parents.
RYAN: It's happened in many places across the country.
NANCY: It just happened in California. Thank God we found little Joshua, Joshua Robb. He was missing in the California Mountains with very cold degrees for two nights, so keep that volunteer search up. Keep the rescue efforts. They found Joshua by a helicopter going over playing his favorite music which caused him to come out. But I'm sure the authorities in this case know what they are doing.
RYAN: And I guess that's my next question for you. What should volunteers be doing to try to reach out to Robert out in the woods? What certain things would he respond to and would it be different for a child that wasn't dealing with autism?
NANCY: It would be different. Now I don't want to give advice that the authorities might not be giving. I'm assuming I read in the paper today that Robbie goes to the Faison School which is an excellent school. I actual meet with Alan Kirshner who started the school I believe and it's an excellent school. I'm sure the educators are working with the search people. There may be something he's particularly interested in. A lot of our children have obsessions. Maybe if they have clues to that. But sometimes going up to a child is the worst thing you can do, especially these non verbal children, it might make them more afraid, so if they spot him, I would say be very gentle in approaching him but mostly get aid to the region immediately.
RYAN: You talked about success story a child missing for two days that was found. As we get into the fourth night how concerned are we that Robert hasn't been found.
NANCY: I think it's devastating. But you know miracles do happen. I don't think they should give up. I would urge everybody that wants to make a difference come out. And also we have a special fund for children who elope or wander. We gave out $43,000 worth of fencing materials to families in the last year. People can go to our web site act-today.org and make a donation to help these kids. We're also working with law enforcement to get tracking devices for these children. So If anybody in the law enforcement arena would like to contact me we're try to get children in various areas set up with tracking devices, and as I said fencing. And with the right therapy children can learn not to do this behavior. That's what my son did. We did intensive ABA, Applied Behavior Analysis, pioneered by our founder Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh and that teaches the child to hold a hand, not to go to the door. It's a series of rewards and extinguishing negative behaviors. And you can really train them not to do this.
RYAN: We'll put this information on our facebook page as well. Thank you Nancy.
NANCY: Thank you Ryan and I wish the family all the luck. When they find him, we will give a grant to Robert for therapy, if the family needs a fence, if the family needs a tracking device. We will be in touch with them or they can be in touch with me. We'll give them a grant for $5,000 for this.