There’s something about being the parent of Autistic children that makes one more aware of possible dangers that all children face.
This lesson was brought to our front door quite literally on Thursday (September 3, 2015) when my wife, son, stepson and I were leaving to go to the grocery store. Walking out of the house, we found two tiny children standing in our patio. Upon seeing us, they started to run… straight into the street! We more or less chased them down and kept them penned in the yard across the street.
While all of that took place in the matter of seconds, I can look back upon it now and understand exactly why we did what we did. The short answer is that everything about the situation triggered our protective parental instincts and we acted upon them, with the logical parts of our brains eventually catching up to what we knew in our “guts:”
- Both of the children were very young and tiny. We estimated both of them to be under the age of five.
2. We did not recognize the children. Since we know most of our neighbors, we knew that these children were not from any of the homes in our immediate vicinity.
3. They appeared to be lost and simply wandering around, drawn to anything and everything that appeared interesting to them.
4. There appeared to be no parent/guardian anywhere around.
5. Something needed to be done to help these children, NOW!
Once we had the children more or less secured, we asked them where their mother/father was and where they lived, but received no answer. Initially, this didn’t surprise us because the children appeared to be of Indian descent, so we assumed the possibility of a language barrier.
The more we observed them, however, the more we began to suspect that the children – at least the boy – possibly was Autistic. It was in the way he walked – unable to stand still, curiously dashing from one thing to another – and the way in which he kept repetitively muttering to himself. Let’s just say that being parents of Autistic children ourselves, we recognized the signs. That’s when our instincts kicked in once again.
“I wonder if they got out of their house and ran away,” I said.
“I think so,” my wife replied.
As nearly any parent of an Autistic child knows, my wife and I believed we were dealing with a case of “elopement.” A common symptom of Autism, it’s defined as, “the act of leaving an area without permission or notification which usually leads to placing that individual in a potentially dangerous situation.”
Since no parent or guardian came forward, I called 911 and reported the incident of two lost children. While waiting for the officers to arrive, my wife asked the boy how old he was and he held up four fingers, and he also held up two fingers when asked his sister’s age. This completely confirmed our suspicions that these children were way too young to simply be running around our condo community unsupervised.
A few minutes before the police arrived, the a very frantic Indian woman came running down the street. Assuming her to be the parent/guardian, I shouted to her and waved, telling her that we had her children. The little girl ran to this woman and embraced her, convincing me that it was likely her mother. (In contrast, the little girl screamed, cried, and dropped to her knees whenever my wife tried to hold her hand.) Needless to say, the woman and was quite relieved and thankful for our intervention.
As we sat there talking, the mother confirmed much of what our instincts had told us. S said she while she was in the bathroom, her son unlocked the front door and he and his sister made a bolt for it. She came out of the bathroom to find her front door open and her children gone. She also told us that her son is, in fact, Autistic, which did not surprise us.
Minutes later, two good officers from our city’s police department arrived to take our statements. The mother profusely thanked us again, and we were finally on our way to the grocery store.What was supposed to be a quick run to Busch’s for some cheddar brats turned into so much more, as I do believe my wife and I quite likely saved those children from serious injury… or worse.
I share this story with anyone reading my blog not because I want to be a hero – whatever that is – but rather, to bring some attention to the needs and issues of Autistic children. More than once, I’ve been accused of being a “helicopter parent” for my constant hovering around my youngest son. What no one who’s used that label knows is that we had a similar experience with our son when he was about three years old.
Two things about my son: he’s extremely strong and he’s extremely fast. Long story short, in a manner of a few seconds, he pulled himself loose from a family member’s hand and bolted straight for a very busy road. Unable to catch up to him, the family member began screaming for help. Fortunately, my stepson and I heard the screams and were able to catch up to my fleeing son, tackling him and bringing him to a stop roughly 30 feet from the road.
We were lucky that day, extremely lucky, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
For those of you whose lives are not touched by Autism, please try to keep this story in mind. And try to understand that elopement is a serious issue, one that should not be taken lightly or dismissed in a casual or offhand manner. Most importantly, if you see a young child(ren) running around, seemingly lost or out of place and without a parent or guardian, step and up and do something to help! You might very well be saving the life of someone’s precious child.
On the day my wife and I helped these two children, at least three other adults – our neighbors – walked past these children and us, seemingly not wanting to get involved.