Parents fear the worst when autistic boy, 10, goes missing for hours
Marty, aged 10, wandered off and was only found about six hours later by a stranger
He is a 10-year-old boy who is fascinated by trains and yearns to go out alone all the time.
On Monday evening, Marty Ragragio broke free from the watchful eyes of his family's domestic helper.
The autistic pupil from Rainbow Centre, a special needs school, dashed across the road after he was dropped off by his school bus near his home in Pasir Ris.
His helper could not keep up with his speed, only noticing that he was running towards a bus stop before he disappeared from sight.
For the next six hours, his worried parents, Mr Teo Ragragio and Madam Rowena Bechayda, approached bus and train operators SMRT and SBS, as well as the police, for help.
Marty's school, grassroots leaders in Pasir Ris and church friends also tried to search for him.
There were also posts being shared on social media, asking people to look out for Marty.
At about 12.15am yesterday, Madam Bechayda, 35, who works in a bank, finally received good news.
The police called to tell her that Marty had been found and was at the Police Cantonment Complex at Outram.
It is believed that Marty, who had an ez-link card with him, took a bus to Pasir Ris MRT station.
He then might have taken a train, eventually ending up at Outram Park MRT station.
His father received a call from a stranger who had spotted a boy matching Marty's description near Outram Park MRT station.
Mr Ragragio, a manager in his 40s, later rushed to the police station after his wife was contacted by the police. He found Marty sitting at a corner, surrounded by teachers and staff from his school.
When Marty saw his father, he performed a Filipino greeting which he does every day when his father returns from work - pressing his forehead on his father's hand - and kissed him on the cheek.
Mr Ragragio recalled: "He doesn't usually display emotions but I could sense that he was happy."
As Marty's communication skills are limited, he is unable to tell his parents about his ordeal.
JOURNEY ON TRAIN
Madam Bechayda said that her son could have been too engrossed by his journey on the train to notice the hours passing.
"But he was probably scared when he realised that he didn't know the timing of the last train service and couldn't make his way home," she said.
Marty, an only child, has been attending the special school since he was two.
Mr Ragragio said there have been at least two occasions when Marty had wandered off on his own.
"He always told me that he wants to go out on his own. I told him, okay, when you turn 21," he said.
"Marty memorises our mobile numbers and he was found quickly the last time (he wandered off)."
But on Monday night, Mr Ragragio admitted that he had feared the worst after Marty was lost for about six hours.
"I got scared that he might be in the hands of a bad person," he said.
Marty does not own a mobile phone as he has a tendency to pass the phone to strangers.
His parents are looking into other tracking devices.
Madam Bechayda, who has been living in Singapore for the past 18 years, said: "I'm so thankful that this happened in Singapore and he is fine now. It could have taken a different turn if it had happened somewhere else."
I'm so thankful that this happened in Singapore and he is fine now. It could have taken a different turn if it had happened somewhere else.
- Marty's mother, Madam Rowena Bechayda
Prevent autistic children from wandering
Nearly half of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) were reported to have engaged in wandering behaviour, revealed a 2012 study published in medical journal Pediatrics.
This puts them at risk of serious injury - one quarter were in danger of drowning and 64 per cent could have been in a traffic accident.
US-based group Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education Coalition (AWAARE), which aims to prevent such incidents, stated that outdoor gatherings usually pose a "unique challenge".
"It is often assumed there are more eyes on the child or adult with autism.
"However, heavy distractions coupled with an over-stimulating setting can lead to a child or adult wandering off without notice."
Here are some tips from AWAARE to prevent wandering and their associated risks:
1. Secure your home with dead bolt locks or a home security alarm system so that the child cannot slip away unnoticed.
2. Consider a tracking device or tracking bracelet.
3. Try to eliminate triggers that could lead to wandering. For instance, if a child is drawn to water, ensure that he does not have access to any pools.
4. Identify the child's interests and obsessions as it could provide hints to their whereabouts.
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now