Yeah, unfortunately this time I’m not talking about me.
A little over a week ago I was telling a friend about information I had found regarding wandering (sometimes called eloping – hello euphemism) in kids with autism. I can’t find the article that gave the percentage of people on the spectrum who wander or bolt, but it was surprisingly high. I had to stop looking for it this morning, however, because I kept coming up with references like this: “In 2008, Danish researchers found that the mortality rate among the autism population is twice as high as the general population. In 2001, a California research team attributed elevated death rates in large part to drowning. Drowning, prolonged exposure, and other wandering-related factors remain among the top causes of death within the autism population.” (http://awaare.org/)
The reason I came across the stuff about wandering is that I was looking for more information on another topic: autism assistance dogs. Those of you who know me will not be surprised that this would be of interest. Autism therapy dogs can be trained to assist with an autistic person’s specific issues, including socialization and safety issues. I was mostly interested in the socialization, but noted that the dogs can be trained to alert you to a wandering child and help bring the child back safely.
Then I forgot to close the gate on Friday night. We don’t usually use the gate on that side of the house, but we had friends over playing in the backyard and we exited through it to take them home.
And I forgot to check to see if it was closed. Saturday morning was nice and sunny, so we let the kids out in the backyard while Sparky and I cleaned up after breakfast, still in our PJs. Our yard’s not huge, but it is L-shaped, with one part of the L extending down the side of the house that we can’t see from the kitchen or back porch.
The boys often like to play on that side of the yard to dig in the dirt. We had the sliding glass door open so we could hear them playing. As I said, we don’t usually use the gate on that side, so we don’t really think too much about it. At least we didn’t until that morning when BeBop came to the sliding glass door and said, “BamBam’s gone.”
“What do you mean he’s gone?” I said as I walked past him into the yard. “Where could he have gone? The gate’s closed.”
“No it’s not.” BeBop said. But he didn’t need to tell me at that point because I had just seen it. I sprinted back through the house – have no idea why I didn’t just go through the open gate. Maybe my adrenaline-fueled brain knew that I’d have trouble navigating the steep hill beyond it at a sprint. Or maybe I had some idea that he had slipped by us into the house and I’d see him before I hit the front door. The only thought I remember having was ‘pond’. Did I mention we live next to a detention pond? And BamBam loves water.
So I ran back through the house, BeBop hot on my heels, and was scanning the pond in record time. I allowed myself a second of relief at not finding him there before I went on to the fresh panic of not seeing him anywhere else either. I started down the path by the pond that leads to the front of our neighborhood. And the main thoroughfare that passes by the front of our neighborhood. And the other pond that is on the way. I was about half-way to the opening to the street that leads to the other pond when my two-and-a-half-year-old little boy who is non-verbal walked around the corner led by a tall man who said, “Is that your mommy?”
I imagine BamBam to have replied, “You mean the crazy lady running at us in her pajamas? Yep, that’s her.”
I blurted an incoherent thank you and something about not knowing the gate was open, scooped up my smiling, serene child and squeezed him until both of our rib cages nearly cracked. We headed back to the house, where I thanked BeBop profusely for telling us that his brother was gone. And there was a sensor on the gate by that afternoon to tell us when it was unlatched.
Here are some pictures to give you an idea of BamBam’s route that day:
I spent the next few days trying not to feel like a neglectful parent. I did surprisingly well, considering my tendency to dwell on things like that. I think it helped that he emerged from the experience unscathed.
That happened on Saturday. There were two other times over the next few days where he ran away from me into an empty parking lot or street, but I caught him almost immediately. He’d never done that to me before, then twice over the span of a few days.
And then there was Tuesday night. I left around 6:30 to pick up some friends for our monthly bunko game. On the way, I got this text (which I read at a stoplight – don’t ever text and drive!) from Sparky: “BamBam went out the f#*$ing window and was running around in the street.”
All three boys had been playing solitarily in the living room when BamBam had wandered off into another room. It was quiet for too long, so Sparky sent BeBop to see what his brother was doing. When BeBop didn’t come back, Sparky went to see what had happened. He found BeBop in the front bedroom (our guest room), hanging his head out of the open window that now had no screen. Then he saw BamBam run by in the street in front of our house. Apparently BamBam had pushed the screen out and climbed over the porch swing to his freedom. By the time I got home, there were brackets on all our windows that don’t allow them to open more than a few inches.
I’m looking into some ways to make our environment safer for him. BamBam’s speech therapist has some good ideas on how to keep him from wandering more, gross motor games that will meet his sensory needs – she thinks that may be why he pushed out the window screen in the first place. I should be able to talk to you intelligently about what we’re doing, but at the moment, this is all I’ve got:
So we now have another runner in the family. Because we didn’t have enough stress as it was.
P.S. When I went out to take the pictures above, I forgot to tell Sparky where I was going. Or that I was going. Maybe BamBam’s not the only wanderer in the family. Sorry Sparky. 🙁
Holy. Mother. Of. God. That is scary. I have to say though, I am impressed (but not surprised) by your hubby’s swift solutions. He is handy.
Wow! Would BamBam wear a cat collar on his wrist or ankle that has your cell number on it? A friend gave me this idea for the airport and Disneyworld in case he got separated from us. Bravo to you and Sparky! Very quick solutions! You are an amazing Mom who is on a bit of a roller coaster ride but soon it will smooth out!
Okay, so, a long time ago, my eldest and I went camping out west when she was little and we were told by the park rangers that the best tool you can give any child is an emergency whistle. Would BamBam wear a whistle and blow it? That way, if he needed to find YOU, he could blow the whistle until someone found him. (No guarantees that he would, since he is obviously having fun “eloping” — but it might be worth a try.) You could even have the whistle engraved with your cell number on it (see comment above). Lots of problem-solving going on here…
Oh a parent’s worst nightmare. I like the whistle idea. Hope it would work for you. Thinking of you and your family. You are both very good parents.