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  • Mika Hartman

Support requested for "Purple Alert" establishment in Mississippi

By Guest Columnist Mika Hartman

Support requested for "Purple Alert" establishment in Mississippi

As a parent, we fear so many things while raising our children. We understand the underlying risks in most of our daily adventures. We all do our best to teach our children to be safe in a world where bad and danger exists; it comes with the parental roles: protect, teach, nurture, love and support.

When your child has a disability or multiple disabilities, the fear grows. A nonvocal and/or nonverbal child, for example, can’t always share needed information to locate a family, and they can’t yell “help.” They may not even understand that help is needed. When a child or an adult with a cognitive disability is lost or wanders too far, even if verbal and/or vocal, they may not be able to share needed information.

Children and adults with special needs, especially those with Down syndrome or autism, have a high risk of wandering or elopement, sometimes referred to as bolting, particularly if a dual diagnosis of both Down syndrome and autism exists together.

Hudson has been dual diagnosed with both.

Half of children with autism are wanderers. Noise levels can be triggering, and the child may try to get away from it. It could be that they see something, and they are determined to get closer. No matter the reason, half of children with autism can easily become lost.

Hudson is a runner - really a bolter - and a seeker of water. He is also nonverbal. When a child becomes lost, the risk of severe danger is great: drowning, running into a busy street, unable to hydrate, weather elements, and/or possible encounters with strangers or animals. If you live in areas with snakes, that’s a risk, too.

Every second matters.

As Hudson’s mom, it is my job to be as prepared as possible. Our home is safe, and we have alarms and locks on every door. Our neighbors know Hudson. I take new photos almost daily. I work with him on swimming, but I’m unsure how he would be without me there. Even with all of these measures in place at home, they don’t apply in public spaces or even at friends’ homes. Daily living and travel bring new levels of fear.

Many families use GPS trackers to provide a sense of peace over their runners, but even GPS trackers in shoes won’t work if different shoes - or no shoes - are worn. Some use bracelets, but kids with sensory issues may not be able to tolerate wearing them.

Recently, Kayla, a seventeen-year-old in Pennsylvania, was dropped at school by her special needs bus… and the school was closed due to a smell reported the day before. Kayla was missing for over eight hours. Kayla even went in convenience stores, and surveillance cameras reveal that no help was offered. She was found in downtown Pittsburgh in cold temperatures, but she was reported to be okay.

Yesterday, I was sent an article about a four-year-old with autism who went missing on January 12. Phenix was missing for more than twenty-four hours. He was found because of over one hundred volunteers who wouldn’t stop looking. The public knowing was everything in this search.

I have a friend here locally who has several locks on their doors at home, but her son still gets out and has been found several miles from home, multiple times. She has locks high up, but he gets a chair or a broom handle. She has GPS trackers, but he has to be wearing his belt or shoes. Her constant fear is heavy.

At dinner the other evening, a stranger shared that his best friend’s son always gets away at Cruising the Coast. He knows several people and always finds a face that can help. What if he didn’t? There are 100,000 faces. However, he loves going and should be able to have fun. It is such a balance; that is why we - all families like mine - weigh the risk-benefit in everything we do.

Sadly, a buddy up north was found drowned in a pond. He was at his grandfather’s house, and no alarms told them he went outside. When they realized a back glass door was slimly open, they ran to find him. It was a family Christmas gathering a few years ago.

Over and over, this happens often. Seventy to ninety percent of tragic deaths are caused by drowning when a special needs child wanders away.

If you see us out, you’ll often see Hudson in his wheelchair. He can walk really well, but it is for his protection in public places. He doesn’t really walk; he runs. He does not look back to see if you’re with him. He won’t turn to his name being called. He is fast, and he loves water. I know I am repeating myself, but it is important that you know many of our loved ones with Down syndrome, autism or who are dual diagnosed are very similar in their love of water!

I share all of this, and I could share hundreds of stories, to say that there is something we can do to help families like mine. It is called a “Purple Alert.” You know about the “Amber,” the “Silver,” and even the “Blue;” now, it’s time to add the “Purple.”

Florida already has the “Purple Alert,” and it is written like this: Purple: For adults with mental or cognitive disabilities.

I want to take Mississippi’s “Purple Alert” to the next level: as both a single alert or one that can be in combination with “Amber” or “Silver.”

I have proudly teamed up with District 56 Representative Clay Mansell to author House Bill 873 to add this “Purple Alert” to our alert system here in the great state of Mississippi. Ours simply states: “Purple Alert: Establish an additional means to aid in the search of persons with cognitive disabilities.”

When time matters, information received is everything. Cognitive disabilities affect newborns to elders, and this alert should be used to provide law enforcement and the public with needed vital information in the quickest manner. Saving our loved ones from the tragic outcomes comes down to time… and not much of it.

These are all very hard conversations, but a “Purple Alert” is easy. It’s not reinventing the wheel; it’s adding a needed color to the wheel to provide information to help if needed. Pennsylvania is trying to get this alert now, after what happened to Kayla. We should not wait for something to happen, because it already happens daily; you just don’t know about it.

Mississippi is a wonderful and safe home for all, and this simple change will bring some relief for families - and it could save lives.

This addition is a beautiful step to protecting our citizens, being a voice for those with no voice and protecting those who cannot understand the dangers out there.

Please join me in getting the “Purple Alert” added to our Mississippi Alert System; we can easily add in protections like this to make Mississippi the gold standard for our loved ones and neighbors with cognitive disabilities. Call your local legislators, and ask them to say “Yes!”


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