Many parents greatly empathized with the family of a local girl whose body was found 18 hours after she went missing Wednesday because they are parents of disabled and autistic children.
The first thing the parents with disabled children did was look at the bodies of water where 8-year-old Skyleigh Pool was last seen. When they first heard about Skyleigh and that she was nonverbal, they encouraged first responders to watch the water.
A single moment spun into an agonizing search with hundreds joining the mission to bring her home. When Kim Steele's husband returned early Thursday morning from the search, she says she hugged her children closer. She says when a child with disabilities goes missing, she tends to think of her own children.
"To think 'Was Skyleigh scared?' and just, as the mom, you want to make it better," Steele says.
As a mother and member of Families on the Spectrum, Steel says parents of children with disabilities empathize even greater knowing the separate set of challenges their families endure. She says flashing lights and loud sirens can even scare children with disabilities, causing them to retreat even more.
"She may not have even known she was in danger," Steele says.
Steele says she takes safety precautions to care for her children both inside and outside, including using a top dead bolt with a key at home.
But for many parents, listening and waiting was all they could do. Christina Hasty said she was pacing her house and picking up the phone a lot, not knowing what to do. She says she was turned away as a volunteer, having arrived too late. She said felt helpless.
Hasty says she encouraged parents on scene to ask first responders, "Did she have a favorite item, or a favorite song, an app, or a gadget? —Something we can draw her in with?"
Because, Steele and Hasty agree, when one family on the spectrum is in an crisis, they all are.
"We, as a special needs community, are all crying today, and she will not be forgotten easily," Steele says.
Steele and Hasty advocate for Project Lifesaver and say they believe the tracking bracelet that works using a radio frequency could have helped find Skyleigh in time. Project Lifesaver is targeted toward people with autism or dementia.
In order to help a family with disabilities, Families on the Spectrum says you need to first know which children in your neighborhood need that special attention and, above all, speak up if you suspect anything.
Steele also says special needs children have a different understanding of traffic, which can be more of a danger as well.
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