12 ON YOUR SIDE: One year after Robert Wood's rescue - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

12 ON YOUR SIDE: One year after Robert Wood's rescue

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

One year ago this week, the entire community was still celebrating the safe return of Robert Wood Jr. - the nine-year-old with autism, who was lost in the woods for five days.

His recovery was a community project, involving thousands. A year later, his care is left up to just two women. Although it's a job they cherish, it is by no means easy.

It was a search of unprecedented scope and size. A boy with autism, non-verbal and lost in North Anna Battlefield Park for five days - thousands volunteered to search the rugged terrain, thousands more prayed and closely monitored our TV reports, hoping that somehow this story could have a happy ending.

Today, with big blue eyes and wispy blonde curls, Robbie doesn't even resemble that little boy from a year ago. He's taller - his weight has almost doubled. Yet the problems associated with his severe autism persist. He darts around the room at a frenetic pace - grabbing at our camera and then retreating to bang his plastic bottle.

Like many children with autism, Robbie is usually adverse to "touch". I was warned he'd be wary of both me and the camera - but then, out of the blue, he jumps up into my lap... and wants to share his toys.

His moods change, seemingly, by the minute. And for his mother and grandmother, Robbie - and his little brother Ryan, who also has autism - the work never ends.

Both boys have now been fitted with GPS tracking bracelets, should either of them wander off again. Caring for not one, but two children with autism is expensive - exhausting, yet clearly a labor of love.

"It's just been hard, because that's the joy of my life, right there - both of them," said Robbie's grandmother, Norma Jean Williams.

For Norma Jean, the one-year anniversary is an emotional time. The cards and letters from the week Robbie disappeared wallpaper her kitchen - and reading them can bring tears. She is a woman of faith, and can't help but believe her grandson has a guardian angel.

"If you look in his eyes, you can see that God's the one who watched over him in the woods. If you could have seen him when he got off the helicopter, you'd understand what I'm saying."

For Barbara - a single mother - everyday is a struggle. There are both money & custody issues. Barbara can't work, since the boys need constant attention - Robbie isn't even fully potty trained. And although it's difficult to think about now, Barbara knows there may come a day when she won't be able to do it.

"He's gotten into bad rages before. He's pushed me before, and I know when he gets bigger, if he does push me, it's gonna knock me down," said Barbara.

But for now, Barbara and Norma Jean plan to take each day as it comes, care for these boys as best they can, for as long as they can, and celebrate the gift they were given last year - when Robbie was brought back them, alive.

"He didn't ask to be born like this...he was born like this...and he's a very precious child - an angel."

The uptick in the number of cases of autism is staggering. According to the CDC, in 2008, one out of every 178 children had some form of autism - by early 2012, the numbers jumped to one in 88, and there are no definitive answers as to why.

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