Monday, May 20, 2013

Our Little Wanderers

I remember when K was close to 3, we were having a cookout at our house. Lots of people. People K didn't know. Lots of noise. An overwhelming situation. Her solution was to leave. I caught her walking up the driveway, thisclose to the street, just repeating over and over "go home, go home".

I have a niece, who at 3 would have known better than to walk into the street. Who would have been able to come up and tell someone she wanted to go inside. That she was upset. That she needed a break. Who would have answered when called. Who actually probably wouldn't be overwhelmed at a cookout.

But K, mostly non-verbal, autistic, wasn't able to do those things. Her only solution was to escape the problem. We live on a side street, where truck and teenagers drive double the speed limit on a regular basis. She didn't know not to go into the street. That it was dangerous. I don't even want to think about what could have happened.

When K was a little older she wandered off at the beach. The beach!! I can't convey to you the sheer terror I felt, running around, desperately trying to find my child. The never-ending ocean lay in front of me, and I didn't know where my child was. Thankfully, I found her, walking around on the sand. We immediately left, because I couldn't stay. I enrolled her in swimming lessons. I bought a life jacket.

Then there is B. He has Aspergers. Clearly very verbal. Yet, his teacher holds his hand when they go out for the bus, afraid he'll run off. He has no sense of danger. He, at almost 7, will still run into the street without thinking twice. When we go anywhere, he is prone to wander. Even those considered "high-functioning" are not immune to this.

It's not that I don't watch my kids. I am probably one of the most paranoid people you will ever meet, and I am hyper-vigilant. Sometimes, though, you entrust another to look after your child, and maybe they don't understand how eagle-eyed they have to be. Sometimes you want to go to the bathroom, make a sandwich for your child, or tend to a sibling.

Sometimes you have to sleep.

In the past couple weeks there have been two deaths related to autism and wandering. Two beautiful children lost, because they wandered off, and weren't found in time.

Mikaela Lynch  and  Owen Black were two children severely affected by autism. Non-verbal. They wandered and both drowned in nearby bodies of water, because, as I can attest, our kids are attracted to water. Regardless of place on the spectrum, so many kids feel comfort there. I know K is at home in the water. So is B. If they could live in the water, they would.

Mikaela and Owen are just two examples. These deaths occur far too often. Law enforcement isn't trained on autism, to know to look in the water first. Not everyone understands that those with profound autism won't answer when called. Have no concept of danger. Won't just return home. And that no matter how much like Fort Knox a home is, kids, all kids, can be little escape artists, gone in an instant.

We need to educate people about autism and wandering, not judge. Even I can't assume to know what it's like to live with a child so severely affected. But, I know these parents love their children more than anything. Do all they can to protect them, and keep them safe. Sometimes, no matter what, these children elope, and we need to take steps to make sure we find them before the unthinkable happens.

Below are links to educate and help.

National Autism Association-Big Red Safety Box

Tattoos with a Purpose

AWAARE-Working to prevent wandering and deaths, within the autism community. 

All my love is with these two families, as they grieve the loss of their precious children.

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