Wandering and autism are partners by chance, yet the consequence marks a dangerous union. The New York Times reports Study Shows Children with Autism Tend to Stray. It is no secret to the thousands of parents living with autism. The article preaches to the choir:
Advocates for families affected by autism say the findings underscore the need to raise public awareness and alter policy. While Amber alerts are used to mobilize the public when a child is believed to have been abducted, for instance, generally they are not used when a disabled child goes missing, said Alison Singer, president and a founder of the Autism Science Foundation ,one of the organizations that supported the study.
What to do about it is the question.
Autism remains one of the biggest medical mysteries that exist today. We know that there is a genetic piece to the puzzle. We know that there are certain environmental factors that are being researched and addressed. We know that treatment and intervention are vital to the safety of our children.
Our experience with a wandering 3 year old with autism was a game of cat and mouse. He would escape the house, forever interested in exploring; a Davy Crockett of his generation. The only problem was that we had no idea where or when he was going or what response he wanted from us. Dangers loomed all around us and it was an impossible situation, because he was non-verbal. His receptive language was equally unreliable.
The only way we could sleep was to put hook and eye locks on the outside of his bedroom door. It prevented night wandering. During the day was another story. If there was an escape, he would find it. One day, I saw the front door open and a flash of orange in the driveway. Then it was gone, like a speed of light his brightly colored shirt was a memory. I started to run, a marathon to the street, as if my life depended on it; only it was my child’s life that was threatened, by his own folly. My legs morphed into a gazelle’s, as I caught a glimpse of my 3 year old looking back, to see if anyone was behind him. Was that a good thing; was that interactive? Not the typical response of a diagnosed a-typical child, I thought. But he did not stop at the street. No fear in this baby boy with the bright smile to match his vivid orange tee shirt.
I took a deep breath and vaulted in the air, as I tackled my child to the ground. We missed the street and an oncoming car by a millisecond. It was then that I became the captain of my own early intervention. It was a shrill and ear piercing “No!” that came from my lungs. He wrestled to be free, but I held my guard and allowed him to feel the weight of my body as well as my words. I made no eye-contact to encourage a game, and I do believe that somewhere in that little body, he understood.
This is by no means a recipe for all. Autism is not a one size fits all story; however it is important to find the dangling carrot, to reinforce safe behavior. For autistic children, safety is threatened every day. Our son is now 25 years old, and we had to be creative with each new challenge, but he did learn with time and intervention.
Following the study, The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics stated: Nearly half of children with ASD were reported to engage in elopement behavior, with a substantial number at risk for bodily harm. These results highlight the urgent need to develop interventions to reduce the risk of elopement, to support families coping with this issue, and to train child care professionals, educators, and first responders who are often involved when elopements occur.
This crisis is a national one, and must be addressed; especially in election 2012!