Community Helps to Ensure Child's Safe Return - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Community Helps to Ensure Child's Safe Return

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It was a tense and scary situation for a Fargo family that had a happy ending. Eight-year-old Draven Unterseher, a child with autism, wandered away from his home and was gone for over 5 hours, leading to a community-wide search. While it ended with Draven being found safe, this type of situation can be dangerous.

Alexa Rinkenberger of Fargo says, "Panic. Instant panic."

A beautiful summer's day with the family quickly turned into a nightmare for Alexa.Alexa

"I get a phone call from Tyson that Draven has taken off," says Alexa. 

Her son Draven had wandered off.

Alexa says, "I was on the verge of shear, absolute panic. Crazy with worry."

After a community-wide search, desperate pleas for help and 5 1/2 hours, Draven was found miles away from home.

"I grabbed a hold of him and just held him," says Alexa.

But this isn't the first time Draven had wandered away from home. In fact, this is a challenge that the Rickenbergers and many other families that have children affected by autism face everyday.

Alexa says, "He doesn't quite grasp that what he did was extraordinarily dangerous."

Licensed Behavioral Analyst with the North Dakota Autism Center, Chelsea Evenstad, says, "With autism, a lot of times one of the deficit areas is understanding danger or safety."

Evenstad adds that children with autism tend to leave home with no warning. She says if you live in a neighborhood with a child that has autism to try to get to know the family, become familiar with the child, and if you see the child wandering, step in. And that's exactly how Draven got home.

"So grateful that he had gotten home safe and that nothing had happened to him. For the 4 1/2 hours he was gone a number of things could have gone wrong. I'm incredibly happy that the community, the police department, everyone that was involved pulled together and we were able to get him home safe," says Alexa.

Experts say children with autism, for some reason, tend to wander towards water. That's exactly what happened in Draven's case. A week and a half ago, he wandered into Moorhead, and last night, there were sightings earlier in the evening that he had been near the river.  According to the National Autism Association, ninety-one percent of deaths in children 14 and under with autism is accidental drowning as a result of wandering.

Last night, police reported all of Draven's family's last name was Rickenberger, but corrected the information today. Draven's last name is Unterseher and his mom and step-dad's last names are Rinkenberger.

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