The other day my doorbell rang in a very early morning hours. In my house if the phone, or the doorbell rings in odd times like this, usually doesn’t mean good news. I sprung out of my bed, and nervously asked who was it. It was security from the front gate, asking me if I am a mother of an autistic child.
When we moved here I made sure that people know that my son is autistic. This place has the least of the tolerance of special need child, and I do not wanted any misunderstanding with and about him.
So they came to tell me that they found my son at the front gate next to a busy street wondering bare footed, no shirt on only a pants. My heart dropped, and in complete disbelief I ran to my son’s room. He was there in his bed, sleeping peacefully thank God for that.
As I opened the door, I told the security people that my son is sleeping in his bed, and the child they had with them is not mine. (it was a little girl about 4 yrs old.) She had one of the person’s army jacket on to cover, and she just wanted to slip into my house for warmth. The two nice man were confused and had no idea what to do with this little girl who did not speak English, or any other language they tried to communicate with her. She is a non-verbal child, had many of the autistic characteristic. I told them that she looked familiar and I seen her before at the playground. That was the start, but we still did not know where does she live. After they left in searching for her home, my son just got up and I could not stop hugging him.I was so thankful that he was at home not wandering around and getting lost.
Wondering, and bolting is a very dangerous behavior for ASD kids. Many injuries and even death had been reported from this kind of behavior, yet very little had been done about this. There are times when the state takes custody of a wandering child, removing them from their own home and accusing the parents of neglecting their own children. Read the story about Ayan.
Because of the need for more understanding and awareness IAN conducted a national survey about wandering of ASD kids. The preliminary findings are absolutely frightening. According to the initial findings about half of the children between ages of 4 to 10 years old, who are affected by ASD tried to wonder away from their safe environment, parents/ caretakers. See the graph here.
The more frightening part of this data is that they report that about 35% of these children are never or rarely able to communicate their personal information to others. Just like this little girl, who was found by the army security near the busy road, but luckily she was found by these trustworthy people who kept her and worked very hard to find her home.
Sadly only a small percentage of a parents report that they get any advice from mental health care professionals about wondering. I personally never got any tips about wondering until just recently. The Orange county Police Department launched a program registering ASD and other special needs children with the 911 system. I filled out a paper about my son’s medical history, medicines, everyone who lives in a same household, his schools and persons who are able to pick him up. The program is to help the first responders understand the child’s needs, interest, condition, and medical information. So if I call 911 my registered phone number will bring all the date on the screen for operator, so they can advise the police and paramedics in case of any emergency. I think this is a good start, and I certainly advocated this service to many other parents with autistic children.
Eloping, wondering, bolting out is a very important issue, that has to be addressed by parents, police, schools, health care professionals, and first responders. Many lives can be saved, many stressful hours can be eliminated. We must acknowledge that wondering is a leading cause of death, and severe injuries amongst ASD kids. We have to be more proactive, and make awareness about this problem.
I personally tell people about my son’s condition where ever I might be. I do get disapproval by family members, and I been accused of attention seeking as well, but I do not care anyone’s opinion about this. I am the one who is taking care of this child 24/7, I am the one who is responsible for his safety as well. To be honest, that early visit from security put some peace in my heart, because. I know if by any chance my son will go out on his own, security will be ringing my doorbell. So if this is what it takes to make awareness to spread the word about a child’s condition, so be it. Is this is attention seeking?…Oh yes, for a good reason. What matters at the end is that my child is safe at home, and people looking out for him. If anyone sees him being alone without me, I know my phone and my doorbell will be ringing right away, and that is what I want to happen, for his sake and my peace of mind.
Here are some resources you might want to read about to be better prepared.