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Helicopter's thermal imaging helps save a young autistic girl lost in a Florida swamp

“I just love how the deputy greeted her. What a beautiful ending. You guys are the best!”

A deputy locates a missing girl in a Florida swamp.

A 5-year-old with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) wandered off into a swamp near Tampa, Florida, around 5:00 pm on Monday, February 26. The good news is that the girl was saved in about an hour thanks to the work of some brave sheriff’s officers and their incredible thermal technology.

The girl wandered from her home and was quickly reported missing by her family to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff quickly dispatched its aviation unit that used thermal imaging technology to scan the nearby swamplands to try to find the young girl before nightfall.

Thermal imaging technology captures images based on the heat emitted by objects, allowing us to see temperature differences even in the dark, making it super handy for night vision and heat detection. The thermal technology helped the officers quickly identify the girl from high above the trees.


"Hey, I think I got her in the woods," a deputy in the helicopter told deputies on the ground. "She might be able to hear her name if you call her. She might be about 80 feet in front of you."

When the deputy on the ground spotted the girl, she lifted her arms and walked toward him. He picked her up and brought her to safety. "Let's get you out of the water. I'll get you to everyone," he told her as they walked out of the swamp.

The sheriff’s department said it was all in a day’s work for the deputies. "Their quick action saved the day, turning a potential tragedy into a hopeful reunion," it said in a statement. "Their dedication shows what service and protection are all about here at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office."

The Sheriff’s Office shared a video of the rescue on its Facebook page and people loved how the deputy greeted the girl, who must have been extremely scared. “I love how happy they were when they found her—they made it seem normal and a good time, keeping her calm. Well done!” Jan Murray wrote. “I just love how the deputy greeted her. What a beautiful ending. You guys are the best!” Sandy Schlabaugh-Kmentt added.

florida, autism, thermal imaging

Young girl lost in a swamp safely in police custody.

via WPBF 25/YouTube

Crime and safety analyst explained how the thermal technology works to News4Jax in Jacksonville, Florida. “It is a piece of equipment that actually will lock on to that heat signature,” Hackney said. “So no matter where that helicopter is moving, trying to orbit a certain area to look for the missing child, once it picks up on that heat signature and identifies it, it doesn’t lose it. So the units on the ground are able to move in like you saw.”

It is common for children with ASD to wander off from their caregivers or secure locations. The behavior is known as eloping. Children with ASD elope for a wide variety of reasons. Loud, frantic situations such as a child’s birthday party may be too stressful for a child with ASD, so they may leave the event unaccompanied to get to somewhere more calm. Others may elope because they enjoy the thrill of being chased by a parent or caregiver, even though it may unknowingly place them into a dangerous situation.

Photo pulled from YouTube video

What kids with autism see.

Imagine everything you'd experience while strolling through a mall — the smells, the sights, the things to touch...

Now imagine all of those feelings and sensations times, like, a hundred.


For many people with autism, overstimulation is their reality.

Being over- or undersensitive when processing sensory information (like sights and smells) is common for people on the autism spectrum.

So an everyday thing that many people might not even notice at the mall, like the spraying of a perfume bottle...

overstimulation, autism, spraying perfume

Autism and coping with overstimulation.

Photo pulled from YouTube video.

... can be overwhelming for someone with autism.

To Jo Wincup, whose 15-year-old son, Ben, has autism, this reality hits close to home.

“Four years ago, my son had a meltdown in a shopping center after becoming overloaded by the crowds, bright lights, and smells. He started kicking me, shouting, and swearing. We tried to get him outside to help him calm down, but the people [lining up] for buses just stared, some even said really hurtful things. This upset Ben even more. He ran off into the bushes and refused to come out. I just wanted to cry, for the ground to swallow us up."

The National Autistic Society is hoping to give viewers a peek into this reality with a new and gripping PSA.

Seen through the eyes of a boy with autism, the video by the U.K.-based group takes viewers through a shopping center, allowing them to experience what living on the spectrum can feel like.

After he's overwhelmed by his surroundings and struggling with his mother (as onlookers gape at what appears to be a child acting out), the boy explains to viewers: "I’m not naughty, I’m autistic."

cafeteria, judgmental, awkward

How can we understand what autism feels like?

Video pulled from YouTube video.

It's important that we all understand what autism can feel like so that we can build a more empathetic world.

Although a large majority of people have heard of autism, a very small number of people actually understand how living on the spectrum can affect behavior. Many kids aren't necessarily naughty; they're dealing with a condition most of us can't experience firsthand.

A new report from the National Autistic Society found that 87% of families say people stare at their child who has autism, and 84% of people on the spectrum say others perceive them as "strange." Unfortunately, this contributes to the reason why nearly 8 in 10 folks with autism report feeling socially isolated.

"It isn’t that the public sets out to be judgmental towards autistic people," Mark Lever, chief executive of the organization, said in a statement, noting the research provided "shocking" results.

"They tell us that they want to be understanding but often just don’t ‘see’ the autism. They see a ‘strange’ man pacing back and forth in a shopping center, or a ‘naughty’ girl having a tantrum on a bus, and don’t know how to respond."

It doesn't have to be this way, though.

The more we all understand autism, the more people on the spectrum can feel OK about being themselves.

“Autism is complex and autistic people and their families don’t expect or want people to be experts," Lever explained. But a "basic understanding could transform lives."

Watch The National Autistic Society's PSA below:


National Autistic Society/Youtube

"Diverted" educational video shared through the Too Much Information Campaign.

Everyone who lives with autism experiences it somewhat differently. You'll often hear physicians and advocates refer to the spectrum that exists for those who are autistic, pointing to a wide range of symptoms and skills.

But one thing many autistic people experience is sensory processing issues.


For autistic people, processing the world around them when it comes to sight, smell, or touch can be challenging, as their senses are often over- or under-sensitive. Certain situations — like meandering through a congested mall or enduring the nonstop blasting of police sirens — can quickly become unbearable.

This reality is brought to life in a new video by the U.K.'s National Autistic Society (NAS).

The eye-opening PSA takes viewers into the mind of a autistic woman as she thinks about struggling to stay composed in a crowded, noisy train.

It's worth a watch:

The PSA hit especially close to home for 22-year-old actress and star of the video Saskia Lupin, who is autistic herself. "Overall I feel confused," she said, of abrupt changes to her routine. "Like I can't do anything and all sense of rationality is lost."

She's not alone.

According to a study cited in NAS' press release, 75% of autistic people say unexpected changes make them feel socially isolated. What's more, 67% reported seeing or hearing negative reactions from the public when they try to calm themselves down in such situations — from eyerolls and stares to unwelcome, hurtful comments.

The new PSA aims to improve that last figure in particular.

It's part of the organization's Too Much Information campaign — an initiative to build empathy and understanding in allistic (i.e., not autistic) people for those on the spectrum.

Autism Awareness Day, campaign, World Autism Awareness Week

Campaign by National Autistic Society created to share the autistic experience to the world.

Photo from Pixabay

"It isn't that the public sets out to be judgmental towards autistic people," Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said in a statement in 2016. It's just that, often, the public doesn't "see" the autism.

"They see a 'strange' man pacing back and forth in a shopping center," Lever explained, "or a 'naughty' girl having a tantrum on a bus, and don't know how to respond."

Well, now we do.

Instead of staring, rolling your eyes, or thinking judgmental thoughts about the young person's parents, remember: You have no idea what that stranger on the train is going through.

“We can't make the trains run on time," said Lever. But even the simplest, smallest things — like remembering not to stare and giving a person some space and compassion if they need it — can make a big difference.

This article originally appeared on 03.28.18

Mom's videos show how her nonverbal son communicates.

Autism is a pretty broad spectrum and each autistic person is unique, with their own capabilities and limitations. There is no one-size-fits-all autism diagnosis or characteristics, so you may run into autistic people who are really bubbly and talkative, but you may also meet some who have limited or no vocabulary with more complex challenges.

Some people may believe that nonverbal autistic people either don't communicate or don't know how to communicate. One mom is challenging that perception with the videos she uploads to social media proving that using words isn't the only way someone can get their point across. Shae runs the TikTok account shae_n_stece where she shows the interactions she has with her nonverbal son, Ste'ce.

Shae gives her followers an inside look at how communication works without words. While she does plenty of talking herself, it's clear that Ste'ce's facial expressions are an equally valuable part of the conversation.


In one video, Ste'ce is ready for bed and decides that his mom needs to close her door, too, so they can both get some rest. The only problem is, Shae isn't ready for bed and a disagreement ensues. Clearly, Ste'ce is having some strong feelings over his mom's refusal to abide by his desire and he let her know. The mom joked, "Idk how I know what he saying but I do," in the caption of the video.

@shae_n_stece

Idk how I know what he saying but i do 😂 #shaenstece #autisticadult #adultsonsbetrippin #funny

In another equally amusing video, Ste'ce tells his mom the truth about how he feels about her working from home. It left Mom with some hurt feelings but he was very obviously unbothered. Sometimes the truth hurts but honesty is always best, right?

@shae_n_stece

Dang my feelings hurt😂😂 #shaenstece #autismacceptance #momandson

The entire account is full of videos showing Ste'ce's sassy personality along with some pretty big wins, like when he ate green beans. Another video shows him sitting through a haircut, though he doesn't like the sound of clippers and only tolerates it for the fresh results at the end.

Communication comes in all forms, and Ste'ce is proving that you don't have to speak or use sign language to have an opinion.