Friday, April 12, 2013

Eloping

 
  When raising a child with autism, a parent faces many difficulties. Things that we often take for granted in our everyday life, suddenly become important in your life for all the wrong reasons. Have you ever thought twice about placing a plastic garbage bag in your garbage pail, or placing your tube of toothpaste on your bathroom shelf? Probably not, but when you have a child that rips the bags consistently, and squeezes all of the toothpaste out of the tube, these things require much more of your attention.
   The same is true of relaxing. The parent of a child with autism, does not relax. It just does not happen. I want to share a story with you about a day that I wish had never happened, but it did. I am sharing it just so that you are able to step into this life,if only for a brief moment, and share an experience that was not only scary , but also extremely important. If you are the parent of a child with autism, this may be something you have yet to experience, but it could happen, so here is a little forewarning.
   On this particular day, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It was a beautiful summer day, the boys were up and about, with Mike at work, and me taking care of things at home. The boys always played in our yard,which I had fenced in for safety purposes. If I was not in the yard with them, I was in our kitchen, watching them through the glass doors.
   Mikey was playing outside with his brothers, our usual routine, and was enjoying the swings,and the warm sunshine. One of the boys came in the house,I believe it was Sean, and went upstairs. Within a few minutes, he was yelling for me, as he need help with something. Knowing that the other boys were outside with Mikey I ran up to help Sean. By the time I had returned downstairs, two of the boys had come in, but Mikey was not one of them. I stepped into the yard to see where he was, but he was not there. I immediately asked the boys where he was,and they said they did not know. Frantically, I ran through the house, calling his name, from the basement to the attic, but he was not in the house. The boys and I then all ran outside and searched up and down the block,in all of the neighbor's yards, but we could not find him.I told Chris to call Mike,and I ran in to call the police.
   This was the moment every parent dreads. Sick to my stomach, I immediately called 911. Fortunately, I always remember what my boys are wearing, so I gave them a full description of him, his clothing and his situation. While I was making the call, my dear neighbors were out in their cars and on bikes searching the neighborhood.
   As I ran back outside, a police car came down the block to let me know that they had Mikey. I felt like passing out. The sense of relief, fear, shame and guilt that came over me was overwhelming. How could I have let this happen? The officer informed me that they had him for about 15 minutes before I contacted 911...that was because my immediate reaction was to search for him. Within minutes, an ambulance pulled down the street,and an officer opened the back doors. Out popped Mikey ,with a ball in his hands, laughing hysterically. This had all been a big adventure to him. I ran over to get him,hugged him, and burst into tears.
    By this time, Mike was home, we had spoken with the police, and were informed of Mikey's whereabouts. He had walked far enough away from our home, crossed a variety of very busy intersections, and was heading further away. He was found for one reason....he was barefoot. Since it was summer,and he had been playing in our yard, he had no shoes on. A woman had seen him,and thought this was peculiar,so she called 911. She slowly followed him until the police arrived, after which they took over.
   I am sharing this story for a variety of reasons.....eloping is not uncommon for children with autism. Many leave their homes on a daily basis. It is one of the most difficult aspects of this disability to deal with. I thank God each day that this woman had the sense to call the police. I wonder how many other people saw Mikey,but just kept driving? I think about the tremendous amount of guilt I felt that day. As I ran through neighbors yards, and up and down blocks I remember the horrible scenarios going through my mind. What if someone had taken him? What if someone was hurting him? Was he hit by a car? Was he hit by a train? Would I ever find him? How would I ever go on if something happened to him? I felt I had failed him.The entire day was horrific, and as I write this, my hands are trembling just thinking about it. Yet, this all transpired because I was simply helping one of my other children, and never expected the unexpected to happen.
   Many people may read this and other similar stories and be quick to say it is the fault of the parent. While I certainly agree that I dropped the ball that day, I can confidently say that both Mike and I are good parents. I do not know many people who would be able to handle all that we have with the love and compassion that we do. I am by no means trying to absolve myself of any fault, because,taking things for granted almost cost us everything that day. I am just trying to use this as somewhat of a teaching moment. If you take anything away from this story, please know that reporting any unusual things that you see, even if it is only a boy with no shoes, can make all the difference in the world. Be aware, and be concerned, not only for your own family, but for all families.
    In the end, we established the fact that Mikey had taken it upon himself to attempt to walk to the beach that day.We spent our summers there, and were not going on that particular day.When asked if that was where he was going, he replied "yes" (one of his few words). When I told him he had no money to pay the toll at the bridge, we both laughed, but inside I was sick.
   Something changed that day. Something important happened. In our house, we were no longer able to run off and do something, without thinking, or knowing where he was. Imagine spending all of your waking hours on alert.....that is what we do. That is not to say that there have not been a few escapes since this episode. A day later, he climbed up on a neighbor's garage roof. Fortunately, we were there,and found him. He is a quiet and sneaky (in a fun way) boy. If I call his name in the house, and do not hear him at all, I get frantic, and the boys pick on me..but one close call is enough to make you crazy. He has become better ,for the most part, although he will occasionally climb our fence and run into an adjoining yard. This is something we deal with, and have to continue to be aware of constantly.If we look tired, we are. If we look worried, we are. If we look happy, we are, and things are going well. Yet these "elopements" or attempts at eloping happen from time to time....we are just fortunate enough to have great neighbors and a great support system, in case we ever make the mistake of  taking a moment for granted and tend to another child.
      Be thankful for your moments of relaxation, and be thankful that your children can tell you where they are going or where they would like to go. Most of all,pay attention to the world around you,as that kind lady did that day.If something seems wrong, it probably is. Do not be afraid to get involved.You just may save an entire family with one phone call.