Autism awareness plays major role in search for Robert Wood, Jr.

HANOVER, VA (WWBT) - One of the most moving sights on the scene of the search for Robert Wood, Jr. is the number of volunteers who have come to help.

1,200 people showed up today alone, all ready to donate their time, some for the third day in a row. The task ahead of them is not an easy one, searching for miles for one small boy whose autism might keep him from responding.

It's tough terrain for these volunteers. This area is a place of tall trees and open spaces, cliffs and ravines. Before they head into the field, everyone undergoes training, where Robert's autism is one of the main focuses.

This disability has truly transformed the way authorities have developed their search tactics. For example, Robert really likes to climb trees, and they say he's very good at it.

He's also insensitive to touch. Walking through briars or thorns won't deter him, and he could likely get stuck inside a bush. Searchers are going to have to scan high, low, and under just about everything.

Robert's is a face that's pulled at the heart-strings of thousands.

"He looks so tiny and so small from the pictures," said Pam Pearce, whose grandson also has autism.

"I also went to the candlelight vigil last night and found out that his grandmother is at the site and refuses to leave," Pearce said. "So, I was determined today that I was coming out to the site today to search for this child for her"

Robert Gilmer came to help too.

"My son's mildly autistic, and I understand how quick they can get away from ya," Gilmer said.

"They've got legs like lightning," said Pearce.

Both volunteers hope their experience with autism could give them the edge when it comes to finding Robert, and bringing him home.

"Kinda know what it's like to be around 'em, you know, how they can scream and yell and being non verbal, you really gotta keep your ears open," said Gilmer.

Officials say autism awareness could be key to finding Robert safely. They are warning those volunteers not to fixate on his clothes.

"He could have taken his clothes off and walked through, be walking around in the pull-up diaper. He could have gotten a shirt, got his shirt wet, said it doesn't feel good to my skin, takes it off, finds another shirt on the ground, puts that on," said Sgt. Tim Sutton.

Officials also say to remember he probably doesn't even realize he's lost, so he won't be looking for help.

"His fixations are cardboard boxes and bottles, especially Pepsi bottles. So, he may be just sitting there playing with any of those items as opposed to walking around looking for help," said Sutton.

There is also a special group here called "Team Adam", advising officials on how to work with cases involving autism. They say it is possible that Robert is alive. They've seen it before.

Again, search organizers would like to see 1,000 volunteers tomorrow.  In particular, they hope people who have already been through the training will return.

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