Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Sheila Medlam surrounds herself with photos of her family. In almost every frame you can see the smiling face of her son, Mason. She cries quietly as she remembers the last night she fell asleep holding Mason's hand.
"I don't want any other mother to endure what I'm enduring," she said. "It's the worst thing that could ever happen."
[Click here for information on the Mason Allen Medlam Foundation.]
Mason, 5, drowned two weeks ago after wandering out of his family's home near Colwich. He was found about 200 yards away in a neighbor's pond. Despite extra locks on the doors and nearly constant supervision, Mason escaped by quietly pushing a fan out of his bedroom window and climbing out of the house.
"Everyday this happens," Sheila said through tears. "Everyday an autistic child or adult goes missing."
Experts say Mason's autism made him more prone to wander away from home. Investigators say Mason's death was a tragic accident.
All of this has led Sheila Medlam to push for change. She wants to start a new missing persons alert system, called a "Mason Alert."
The alert would be similar to an Amber Alert, but would be tailored specifically to children and adults with developmental disabilities.
"If you've met an autistic child, they are absolutely fearless," Sheila said. "They have no fear. And they are attracted to things you do not want them to be attracted to."
Sheila knew her son was attracted to water. It's why she went directly to the nearby pond after a frantic drive from work to look for Mason. Sheila pulled her own son from the water.
She says the rescue teams already on the scene didn't know about Mason's attraction to water, and the pond was hard to see from the road.
"You have to know where to look for them," Sheila said. "And if police had that info, they would have known right where to look for my son."
Sheila says the "Mason Alert" would give authorities crucial information the minute a call comes in regarding a missing special needs child. Photos would be included, along with a list of nearby hazards and the child's interests. Search crews would also receive immediate updates on how the child responds to strangers, fear and stress.
"I think it's such a positive response to such a tragic situation," said Connie Erbert, Director of Autism Outreach for Heartspring in Northeast Wichita. "I would absolutely support this."
Erbert says few families can understand the challenges in raising and caring for a special needs child unless they experience it first hand. What's more, she says, many children never outgrow a mental disability.
Erbert says by taking into consideration special needs adults, the "Mason Alert" becomes particularly unique.
"We all have to work together for that person's lifespan," Erbert told KAKE News. "It's not just from birth to 21, but for the lifespan."
Sheila Medlam has taken her fight to the Internet, starting the Mason Allen Medlam Foundation. She hopes to collect enough signatures and support to send the Mason Alert to lawmakers.
[You can add your signature by clicking on the link in the above paragraph.]
"I'll never stop," she said. "If he saves one life... it will give some meaning to us losing him."