Moving Beyond Alzheimer’s Disease: How Project Lifesaver Grew to Serve All Special Needs

Guest Blog Post by Sharon Proffitt

Autism has been a part of our family for approximately 23 years as my son, Nathan, recently turned 27 years old and was diagnosed at the age of 4.

My family first began discussing Autism and the potential value of the Project Lifesaver program to those on the Spectrum with Chief Gene Saunders in early 1998. Chief Saunders came to our home in 1999 and enrolled our son into the Project Lifesaver program as the first child to ever been enrolled.  Soon afterward, I became a volunteer for Project Lifesaver, and in the summer of 2000, I became Chief Saunders’ first employee.  I had the pleasure to work for Chief until the Spring of 2012 when I “retired” to care for my son when my daughter graduated from college and moved away to begin her career.

Nathan was not only a “wanderer” when he was initially diagnosed with Autism; he was also a “runner”.  He would literally “bolt” from home, straight for the street with zero regards for safety or other potential danger.  It became imperative for my husband and me to have Nathan enrolled in this very important program.  Nathan was to soon enter special education preschool and I was especially worried about him wandering or “bolting” from the classroom.

While Chief Saunders was at our home he explained to Nathan that the transmitter would keep him safe and that if he ever became lost, it would help him (Chief Saunders) find him and bring him home. Interestingly, Nathan repeated this phrase to others numerous times throughout his school years and remembers this initial meeting with Chief to this day.

Nathan apparently took Chief Saunders’ words quite literally as he never bolted or wandered again!  It was like the transmitter was a “security blanket” for him.  He knew as long as he had it, he was safe!

Word spread quickly throughout my son’s special education classroom and soon, many other children with Autism were wearing the transmitter.

Helping families of Autistic children has always been a deep passion of mine and Chief Saunders graciously allowed me to visit schools in the city of Chesapeake to speak with the special education departments and teach them about Project Lifesaver.  I gave them information packets to send home with the children to share with their parents.

I was blessed to be able to work for such a worthwhile organization and for a “visionary” who knew how much this service was needed – not only in Chesapeake, Virginia, but throughout the country and the world.

I wish Project Lifesaver much growth and success for many years to come. Our family will always be grateful for the service and the lasting friendships made through Project Lifesaver International.