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