Drew Howell – May, 2013

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DRESDEN — Andrew J. Howell, a 2-year-old Akron boy with autism, drowned in the Muskingum River just before 8 p.m. Saturday.

The family was on a camping trip at a cottage in Dresden when Andrew reportedly wandered toward the river, 100 yards away.

Howell was one of three children with autism who drowned this past week across the U.S.

Laurie Cramer, director of the Autism Society of greater Akron, is speaking to the media on behalf of the Howell family for the time being. Cramer said Kelly Howell, Andrew’s mother, told her that her “worst fears have happened.”

She told Cramer it took a matter of seconds for her son to wander off.

One of the hallmarks of autism is a language delay. Cramer said children with autism don’t think to tell adults where they’re going — they just act.

“For children under the age of 14, the No. 1 cause of death is wandering-related accidents,” Cramer said.

According to the National Autism Society, between 2009 and 2011, accidental drowning was the cause of 91 percent of child-wandering deaths.

Family members administered CPR on Andrew for about 10 minutes before the Dresden Fire Department arrived and took him to Good Samaritan Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said the drowning remains under investigation.

During the week of Andrew’s death, two more children with autism drowned in other states. Michaela Lynch, 9, was found in a creek near her family’s vacation home in Clearlake, Calif. The body of Owen Black, 8, was discovered two days after he wandered away from his mother while vacationing in Florida.

Cramer said Kelly Howell knows the statistics about how vulnerable her child was to wandering and that she plans on working to get the word out, informing people who might still be unaware of the danger.

“Sometimes people who don’t have children with autism are quick to judge,” Cramer said. “They’ll say, ‘What were you doing with you back turned at all?’ Just like every parent, we have to do the dishes, run to the bathroom — it’s impossible to always have every second covered. It breaks my heart when I see people pass those types of judgments. I mean this in the classic sense of the word: It’s very ignorant. It lacks the understanding of what a parent goes through when caring for a child with a cognitive delay.”

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