A three-year-old Australian boy with autism who went missing on Friday has been found sitting in a creek less than 500m from his home.

Hundreds of people had been searching for Anthony “AJ” Elfalak – who has autism and is non verbal – since he went missing from his family’s remote rural property in Australia three days ago.

A police helicopter spotted him sitting in shallow water in a creek bed late on Monday morning, close to the family home near the village of Putty, north of Sydney.

His father, Anthony Elfalak, said AJ had been bitten by ants, had diaper rash and suffered abrasions.

“It’s a miracle,” he said, after he and his wife, Kelly Elfalak, were reunited with their son.

“He’s just clinging to mum. As soon as he heard his mum, he opened his eyes and looked at her and fell asleep.”

He is in good condition but has been taken to hospital for observation.

AJ was found in an area that had been searched before, with police assuming he spent the entire time in the woods.

He was found cupping water in his hands to drink, which played a key factor in his survival police said.

Temperatures in the rugged Australian woodland dipped as low as six degrees Celsius overnight.

AJ was kneeling in the creek when a state emergency service officer reached him and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, Chief Inspector Simon Merrick said.

The officer “stated that he (AJ) turned towards him with a massive smile on his face that he will not forget”, Mr Merrick added.

The paramedic who examined AJ, Gerry Pyke, described him as a “little survivor”.

“Little AJ’s condition was quite remarkable,” Mr Pyke said. “He was very, very thankful. I could see that in his eyes.”

AJ slept in an ambulance after he was reunited with his parents, then woke up hungry.

“He got stuck into about three slices of pizza and a banana so he’s pretty good,” Mr Pyke added.

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