I will never forget the night when at 2 am, I heard the locks to our apartment door open. How quickly I stumbled out of my running down the hall trying to stop my 3 year old son from walking out.
Or the day while out at a large park for a BBQ, I looked away for one second and when I looked back - The Boy was gone. I yelled out his name - two, three times before he reappeared. Not to the sound of my panicked voice calling out to him, but because he had emerged from one of the play tunnels.
When we go out to crowded places like museums, amusement parks or the beach, The Husband and I always have one hand on The Boy, scared to let go. It would only take a matter of seconds for him to slip away. And I can't tell you how many times, I've had to jump up and sprint to get The Boy after he's broken away from me. How many times, I've yelled out for him to "STOP" and he just keeps going. It's scary.
The Boy loves the water. He has no fear of it - or of much else for that matter. He has no awareness of danger. He is so impulsive and moves so quickly that trips to the beach are more stressful than relaxing. And I know that I cannot take my eyes off of him. But there is always a fear. That the second I look away, anything could happen...
Last week, 9 year-old Mikaela Lynch wandered away from her family. Days later her little body was found in the water. Days after Mikaela's tragic death, 8 year-old Owen Black also wandered away from his family. He was also found in the water.
My heart aches for these families, losing a child is an unspeakable loss.
But my heart also aches because during this time of grief, their parenting is called into question. The parents are being judged.
Too often parents of special needs children are judged. We are judged when our child is having a public meltdown. Why can't we control our kids better? And when children with autism go missing and tragedy occurs, instead of showing support, some individuals are quick to point a finger and lay blame. Why weren't they being watched?
When I think of these families, these children. I cannot help but think it could so easily be The Boy. The Boy is a wanderer too. And the thought alone is too painful.
This week, in honor of Mikaela special needs bloggers are linking up with Sunday Stillwell to show our support for her loved ones and our gratitude to first responders.
If you are not familiar with autism and/or wandering - here are some facts* you should know:
Children with ASD are eight times more likely to [wander] between the ages of 7 and 10 than their typically-developing [children]. Dangers associated with wandering include drowning, getting struck by a vehicle, falling from a high place, dehydration, hyperthermia, abduction, victimization and assault.
According to data released in April 2011 by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) through the Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI):
- Roughly half, or 49%, of children with a autism attempt to elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times higher than their unaffected siblings
- More than one third of children with autism who wander/elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number
- Two in three parents of elopers reported their missing children had a “close call” with a traffic injury
- 32% of parents reported a “close call” with a possible drowning
In 2012, the National Autism Association found that from 2009 to 2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91% total U.S. deaths reported in children with autism subsequent to wandering, and that 23% of total wandering-related deaths occurred while the child was in the care of someone other than a parent.
What precautions can we take?
AWAARE.org a site dedicated to prevent wandering within the Autism Community has created materials that focuses on wandering-prevention, and first-responder notification:
The National Autism Association has also created two new safety toolkits:
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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.