We've all been there before. That split second you turn around, and then...poof! Your child is out of your sight. All of those feelings you think you will never have to experience because it will never happen to you or your child, start rushing in like a tide on a hot summer's night. Then, thank goodness, you discover your child is just hiding underneath a wrack of clothes. PHEW!
Autism parents not only experience the typical wandering off from time to time, but many of us have or will experience dangerous situations of impulsive wandering and elopement. It happened to us...TWICE!
According to a study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network, Half of children diagnosed with autism will wander away from safe environments.
It was the most beautiful sunny day in Myrtle Beach, SC. We were staying at a resort hotel just a stone's throw from the sandy beaches. Nolan and I couldn't wait to explore the may pools, water slides, and lazy rivers the resort had to offer below our hotel room.
We weren't at the resort more than 10 minutes before I watched Nolan jump in the pool of his choice. I turned my head for a brief second to put down our beach bags. And then...poof! He was gone! The pool was crowded. He had to be in there, I thought to myself. I must have checked and double checked that pool 100 times. I HAD to be missing him. Maybe he was under water? Nope, no Nolan anywhere. It turns out he jumped out of the pool in that split second I turned my head. Where was he?
Now panic mode started to set in. OMG THE OCEAN! He loves water! Did he take the 20 foot walk to the beach? At this point, I am yelling his name with a screech in my voice that is indescribable. Nolan! Nolan! Why am I even yelling? He wouldn't have been able to hear me over the loud music and partying going on at the resort anyway.
Seconds, then minutes started to tick by. Most hotel guest ignored my screams because they were enjoying their vacation. Heck they couldn't even hear me. Finally, a woman stopped me and suggested I ask the dance DJ make an announcement for Nolan to hear and report to a safe place or a police officer. With tears in my eyes and my voice barely recognizable, I told her Nolan won't come when called with all of the stimulation surrounding him. NO WAY!
Those minutes turned into an hour and now the resort police were involved. Finally in the distance, I see that woman holding Nolan's hand directing him toward me. She found him on the beach, sitting in the sand drawing pictures with a stick he found.
I grabbed him, hugged him, kissed him, and scolded him at the same time. "Don't ever run away from mommy again!" Yes, he needed to hear that wandering off on his own was dangerous, but he just couldn't process it, which leads me to my next story...
This past summer he was riding his bike on our cul-de-sac like he had 1000 times before. In front of my own 2 eyes, he decided to take a left turn at the end of the block. He had never made that turn before. I think he just wanted to be independent and explore. I watched him ride away! I jumped in the car to search for him and he was nowhere to be found! A neighbor called the police. An officer informed me that he received a report of a child riding into oncoming traffic on a busy street. He just kept riding and riding. He narrowly escaped a bad traffic accident. Eventually, thank goodness, a familiar neighbor spotted him and he stopped for him because Nolan wouldn't even stop for an officer.
According to Interactive Autism Network (IAN), 65% of wandering incidents involved a close call with traffic
Until this day, Nolan doesn't have a good sense of what dangers can occur if he bolts from me or any other loved one in his life. He may hear something, see something, feel something that makes him want to venture off on his own.
I now know that having a child with autism who wanders has zero to do with my parenting style; it just makes me an autism mom.
I will continue to teach Nolan that police officers are friendly and helpful. I have also taken it upon myself to have locks and alarms installed on windows and doors in my home to keep my son safe. I have no qualms about sharing that with you, although It took a while to find "Nolan proof" locks;).
Autism moms, what are your stories? How do you keep your child safe from the dangers of wandering???