The Wrong Questions Are Being Asked About Mikaela Lynch

Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Featured | 5 comments

The Wrong Questions Are Being Asked About Mikaela Lynch


The Wrong Questions Are Being Asked Following the Heartbreaking Outcome of Mikaela Lynch’s Disappearance 

Last Sunday, nine-year-old Mikaela Lynch slipped away from her family’s vacation home in Clearlake, California. After an intense search, her body was found in Cache Creek yesterday just before noon.

Mikaela had autism and could not speak. Like many of children with autism, she was attracted to water.

Our deepest sympathies and full support go out to the Lynch family.  The misinformation circulated by bloggers who rely on cheap, shock-value content to gain readership does a great disservice to our community, this cause, and to a family who is being kicked while already down.

While her two children played on a trampoline on Mother’s Day, Mikalea’s mother was in the back of their vacation home putting screens on vent holes because the wasps were building hives in them. During this time, a bee scared Mikaela’s brother, he ran and Mikaela disappeared. Based on video surveillance and time stamp, Mikaela’s parents were two minutes behind her. Thirteen minutes into frantically searching for their daughter, they called the police.

Many have asked why Mikaela was naked. This behavior is common among those with autism who have tactile sensitivities, or routine-based behaviors. The leadership of the National Autism Association is currently in Canada at the Missing & Exploited Children Conference to speak with first responders and social workers about this very issue – wandering behaviors in autism, why our children remove clothing, how they are attracted to water, and how parent blame is common.

Last November, a study released in Pediatrics showed that 49% of children with autism like Mikaela are prone to wandering, a rate four times higher than their unaffected siblings. This indicates that this is not an issue of bad parenting. From 2009 to 2011, 23% of children who died following a wandering incident were in the care of someone other than a parent. Again, this issue is happening across all settings, under various types of supervision.

The data also showed that only 50% of our parents have received advice about wandering prevention from a professional. Sadly, many in our community are unaware that wandering is even an issue.

So, instead of asking why the parents took their eyes off their child – something all parents do when we sleep, shower, cook, go to the bathroom, comment on an article, read a blog, or make home repairs — the better question to ask is: how can we help children like Mikaela progress so that they understand ways to stay safe? Where are the programs for these children? Where is the aid for their families? Where are the treatment protocols? Insurance coverage? Where are the AMBER Alerts for children who are disabled? How can we help prevent children like Mikaela from wandering away from home, or school? How can we help parents of special-needs children have respite care? What can WE do to prevent these deaths? How can WE get the information to parents, caregivers, and teachers?

Four weeks ago, another little girl with autism was found dead. Alyvia had wandered away from her grandmother’s home and drowned in a nearby body of water. In 2012, our community lost Aryanna, Aiden, Bailey, Jeremiah, Christian, Alexie, Kaleb, Au-juna, Tye, Tatianna, Sean, David, and others who need for us to start asking the right questions. Are we asking the right questions? It’s easy to place blame. It’s easy to judge. It’s difficult to be accurate unless you’ve been there.

Last year, this blog was written after a mother was repeatedly blamed & verbally assaulted after her 12-year-old child with autism drowned in a pond near the family’s home. What did she do wrong? She accidentally left the garage door open for a few minutes after she brought groceries in and set them on the counter. Kicking these parents while they’re already down is not only cruel and heartless, it has the potential to negatively affect other children in the home. “Reporters” shouldn’t inflict additional emotional pain upon surviving siblings if their real goal is to protect and look out for children, especially if their details are shoddy at best.

It was Mother’s Day when Mikaela disappeared, and her family is absolutely devastated. Please share educational resources with families, teachers, and first responders. To do this, visit and download the “Big Red Safety Toolkit” on wandering prevention.


Lori McIlwain
Executive Director




  1. Lori, I agree. Mikaela’s parents are not to blame. This could have happened to any family whether the child is autistic or not. I did want to let you know it did not happen in Clearwater, CA; but in Clearlake, CA. I was one of the volunteer searchers. I was out there from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m and sometimes later than that. Mikaela’s passing has hit our Lake County, CA Community very hard. While hanging and handing out flyers door to door, searching the marsh, wooded, and creek areas I did have a few people ask ignorant questions like: “Why would parents take their eyes off of a child with autism if she has a habit of wandering?” and “Why would people allow a 9 year old girl to strip her clothes off?” My response to them was: “Are you a parent? Mikaela is autistic and has the mentality of a 1 year old child. I am a mother of 3 boys (13 year old, 11 year old and 2 1/2 year old) who are not autistic, and know when my boys were 1 year old and it’s hot out there was no way to keep their clothes on… even now my 2 1/2 year old strips down to just his diaper when he is hot and sometime even strips his diaper. A lot of toddlers do that. As for the parents not watching her 24/7; I am sure they watch her all the time. It is impossible for ANY parent to keep an eye on a child 24/7.” Which gave the people with the wrong questions the answers to hopefully help them understand. It wasn’t anyone’s fault and people need to stop the “blame game”. My boys may not be autistic, but I have several friends whose kids are. I don’t know much about autism, but I want too and I am still learning. Bless all of you and your precious children. ♥

  2. Thank you for writing this. 13 years ago, I looked up while cooking dinner to see something floating in our pool. It was my toddler son. He had managed to unlock a door and slip through a pool gate in a matter of fifteen minutes. I thought he was in the next room watching Barney.

    He survived the drowning incident and was since diagnosed with an Autism disorder. His wandering was always followed by that knee weakening, sickening feeling that he was going to drown again.

    I can not describe the horror of seeing your child floating cold, blue and ostensibly dead. Of trying to revive them, Or crying out to God in disbelief.

    Almost as bad was the complete lack of feeling or kindness by those around us. Some ladies who I thought were my friends actually mocked me when I freaked out that he was out of sight several months later. Others questioned my parenting, so I was either too protective or not enough.

    My heart goes out to those families who weren’t as lucky as us. But let me tell you, the guilt is crushing. You wonder what they felt, how badly they wanted you to come but couldn’t speak. The guilt is a living, breathing heartache and it never goes away.

    I sipped a teaspoon of what those other parents are feeling and believe me, they need our compassion, not our scorn.

  3. Why don’t we ever seen ACTION from the National non-profits when events like this occur? The Police Chief was on TV stating that he had asked the public servants @ the CHP in California to issue an Amber Alert & because he “couldn’t prove it was an abudction” they wouldn’t issue one. Now maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference in this case but in other States they would have issued an Amber Alert for cases like this. Don’t U think we in California Deserve at least this much? It’s also TRULY SHAMEFUL that many National non-profits yesterday & today are using this event to try & fundraise. THAT IS JUST SHAMEFUL – Autism Speaks FB post for example lead not to the original news story but rather they have cut & pasted the news story to their own site just so a “Pop Up window” asking for a donation would could up before one could read the story. And they are not the only organization like this. Organizations that try to fundraise like that should be called out & publicly SHAMED!

    • Stan, NAA has literally been working for years on the AMBER Alert issue. It hasn’t been easy. I will say that significant progress has been made over the last several months. Stay tuned…

      • I had this happen to me in 2010….My daughter took off and I got arrested and hit with a child endangerment charge, and it was the best thing to ever happen to me…..I realize after that that you have to be far more sentinel when it comes to a child with autism and whether you like it or not, you have to take extra measures and you cannot relax……This story has left me heartbroken and very, very grateful that my daughter was found safe that night, and I challenge anyone who has a child with autism, research, research, research…..


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