Child psychologist explains difficulties in searching for missing boy

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — A Charlotte child psychologist said the search to find a missing 6-year-old boy in Gaston County is more complicated and dire than other missing child cases.

Dr. Frank Gaskill has nervously watched the desperate search in Rankin Lake Park for Maddox Ritch.

[SEARCH FOR MADDOX: Mother of missing boy says ‘I just want my baby home']

The licensed psychologist specializes in children diagnosed on the autism spectrum disorder. He knows the search to find Maddox is more challenging because he's autistic and nonverbal.

That's why officials are playing recordings of his parents’ voices while searching in the woods.

"That could be great or terrifying, depending on if this child is sensitive to loud noises. It could just drive him further away. Talking to the parents and figuring out what this particular child's needs are will be critical for the FBI," Gaskill told Eyewitness News anchor Liz Foster.

Pediatrics reveals nearly half of families reported their child with autism tried to wander or run away at least once, and 24 percent involved close calls with drowning, according to a study published last month.

That did not surprise Gaskill, who said autistic children are drawn to bodies of water because of the way it feels.

Officials searched on boats Monday after draining part of the lake to see more of the shoreline.

Gaskill said crews should be using information from Maddox's family about his interests to help guide their search.

“Many people on the spectrum have a greater sense of their fight-or-flight response,” Gaskill said. “It’s stronger than others. In children, that can lead to meltdowns or (a) high level of frustration, but his ability to articulate and name what that is, is going to be impaired. It’s just going to be the sense of ‘I’m under attack. I’m under attack, which could cause him to run further to try to find safety.”

Gaskill said Maddox’s parents should not blame themselves for the boy wandering off.

“It is common and it’s less about inattention and more about being in their own world,” Gaskill said.

Gaskill recommends that parents of any children who tend to wander put a GPS watch on them and always be hyper-vigilant.

Read more top trending stories on wsoctv.com: