Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Power of Words

We say all the time to never underestimate the power of a kind word. It is very true, regardless of who you are speaking to, be it a stranger, friend, family, or even your own child. It can have such a profound impact on that person. Words are powerful, for better or worse. They can make or break a person or relationship.  They can make or break a moment or experience. I think this is especially true when it comes to our own children. Especially when they suffer from low self-esteem and struggle so much with their own self-worth.

Last week I went on a sailing regatta and boy did I need the break! I felt like I was going stir crazy and just losing my mind. I was becoming short with everyone and everything and I just couldn’t curb it. We were having a really rough start to summer and I was really stressed.  The kiddo was testing every boundary under the sun and it was just teenage attitude to the nth degree and then some. I wasn’t sure he was going to survive much longer.  I was counting down and really looking forward to a few days away, completely disconnected from the world.

During the trip I received a pretty juicy concussion.  I was pretty out of it and very tired (naturally).  A few days later when we returned home and I picked my son up, I promptly fell asleep on the couch at a mere 4:00 in the afternoon. Oops. I remember him waking me up at some point to ask me something about dinner and chicken noodle soup. Then again with something about showering. Then finally about bed. At that point I was so groggy I didn’t even know what day it was. He reminded me of his rule of going to bed (if mommy is too tired then mommy needs to go to bed and not sleep on the couch) and I sent him to bed. At this point I got up, tucked him in, told him I was sorry for being so out of it and that I was proud of him for being so on the ball, and went to bed myself.

The next day I didn’t fare much better but I did make it to work and get through the day. He helped me quite a bit throughout the day with getting the dishes done, helping me make dinner, getting things I needed when I was too dizzy and sick to move, and making sure he got his shower and took his meds. My boy was on the ball. I kept telling him how proud of was of him and how amazing he was being.

Things have pretty much continued in that way. He’s being patient with me. He’s reminding me of things. He’s showering me with hugs and kisses. He’s letting me sleep. He’s letting the dog in and out without screaming at the broken screen door. And I can only respond with how proud I am of him and how amazing he is being. He really has been a rock star.

Here we are today and I’m in my room after a shower and he comes upstairs with the towels I had started to wash the other day. Dry. Ready to be put away. Big grin on his face. He started his own laundry without being asked. When he realized he forgot some clothes, he didn’t flip out (which is HUGE) he just came to me and said he didn’t know what to do. So I helped him build a load with a blanket and two jackets I couldn’t fit in my wash from the trip.

I got to thinking while on the trip about all the hype over having your kids be outside and creative and not on anything electronic over the summer. At first I thought it was a great idea, let’s have him be creative first before getting on the computer! Have him draw, have him use Legos, whatever. But you know what? Who cares? He goes to a camp with other Autistic kiddos for socialization and anger management skills. When he is on the computer he IS creating. He’s making computer game levels and characters. He works so hard all school year to keep it together, he deserves the break too.

The entire dynamic in this house has changed. He’s listening again (actually coming the first time I call, not after I turn into the crazy woman and go looking for him), he’s doing what he’s being asked to do, he’s not whining, he’s not yelling, and the attitude? So far it’s on hiatus. He is making me so proud with how well he’s been doing. He’s been making sure I’m ok. He’s been snuggling in with me in the morning. He’s been getting me anything I need if I can’t get up at that time due to dizziness. Last night he even made me a S’more in the microwave so I could have a snack too. I’ve always known he’s the best kid out there, lately, he’s been proving it all over again. All because I keep reminding him of how amazing he is.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Candle In A Hurricaine

This post is probably going to come off a bit harsh.  If nothing else, a bit rough.  There is a hard reality to this life, one that often sits in the shadows and no one wants to look behind the curtain to dust the windowsill.

The past year has been a pretty rough one in the AMD household.  Sparky is hitting puberty at this point (he is 13 now) and all of the changes and hormones are making things much more difficult.  He doesn’t understand what is going on and he thinks there is something wrong with him.  Yes, he’s been told by everyone from me to the psychologist to the mobile therapist to the mental health therapist that it’s all normal and he’s ok.  For all he understands, we may as well be talking to the wall.

You feel like a candle in a hurricane
Just like a picture with a broken frame
Alone and helpless
Like you've lost your fight
But you'll be alright, you'll be alright

The past several months have led to a surge in behaviors as he has both regressed and escalated.  His coping skills and ability to manage has regressed.  His behaviors have escalated.  At the moment we are working overtime to keep him safe.  I think the worst of the issues we face is a strong elopement urge.  His need to wander, especially at night.  If you recall he did this years ago, during the daytime, but it was rare.  It’s a more common occurrence now and this time, at night.  He still has absolutely no sense of danger.  How much more frightening can you get? 

'Cause when push comes to shove
You taste what you're made of
You might bend, 'til you break
'Cause it's all you can take
On your knees you look up
Decide you've had enough
You get mad, you get strong
Wipe your hands, shake it off
Then you stand,
Then you stand

I always took for granted that the house alarm would work so well to keep him in the house.  That was quickly erased when he made the connection between the key fob on my keys and the house alarm.  About two weeks ago, just as I was falling asleep, I heard the door open.  He used the fob to disarm the system and go right out the back door.  Being deaf I never actually heard the crazy loud beep of the system disarming (but it must have roused me subconsciously enough to hear the door).  I don’t even want to think of what would have happened had I not woken up.  We live in an area where we are surrounded by main roads.  He could have been gone in no time.

Life's like a novel
With the end ripped out
The edge of a canyon
With only one way down
Take what you're given before it's gone
And start holding on, keep holding on

It doesn’t end there.  Naturally.  Why would it?  His mood is no longer stable.  We can’t seem to find a good balance anymore.  He’s been depressed, aggressive, and self-injurious.  I ended up finding him a new psychologist just two months ago.  Around that same time we added in Family Based Mental Health Services (the most intensive services you can get).  We adjusted his medications.  Everything feels like a waiting game anymore.  We are now looking at taking him to one of the major hospitals a couple hours away to have him evaluated by the psychologists there (Cleveland, maybe Pittsburgh) and see what they can do.  I don’t seem to be catching a break and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.

'Cause when push comes to shove
You taste what you're made of
You might bend 'til you break
'Cause it's all you can take
On your knees you look up
Decide you've had enough
You get mad, you get strong
Wipe your hands, shake it off
Then you stand,
Yeah, then you stand

I now live in this constant state of fear.  I lock up the keys when I go to bed.  I sleep lighter than a feather.  Every night it’s the same routine:  Goodnight, I love you, Stay safe, No shenanigans, Stay in bed, Right to sleep, DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE.  Being so disadvantaged I am terrified he’ll find a way out and I won’t hear him.  By the time I discover it, it will be far too late.  I thought I knew was sheer exhaustion was.  I was totally wrong.  I sleep all day when he’s at school.  I can’t concentrate.  My migraines are sheer at peak level “Hell.”  To say I’m stressed is probably the understatement of the century.

Every time you get up
And get back in the race
One more small piece of you
Starts to fall into place

All I can do is keep pushing, keep moving.  Just pick myself up, dust myself, and keep going.  I’ve been fighting for so long I can’t possibly stop now.  There are days, I won’t lie.  So.  Many.  Days.  Where I just want to throw my hands in the air and give up.  I’m so worn down, so frustrated, so exhausted, so defeated.  I cry more now than I think I ever have, I actually cry daily, and it doesn’t take much to start the flow.  I often feel like I’m riding an emotional roller coaster to hell and back again.  Then every morning, when I wake up and he’s safely in his bed still, I feel better.  I breathe a little easier.  I put on my happy face mask and thank God for keeping us through another night. 

Yeah, then you stand,
Yeah, yeah, baby
Woo hoo, woo hoo, woo hoo

Then you stand, yeah, yeah

Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Do I Run?

There are so many reasons why people run.  I could spend all day just looking them up and determining that each one is valid.  I also run for many reasons.  I've been a runner my whole life and I absolutely love it.  I run several times a week.  It brings me peace of mind and always gives my mood such a huge boost.  Basically, running is my sanity.

This morning I was running in the park by the beach and there's a big celebratory weekend to promote awareness of the area and it's preservation.  Not really recalling that it was this weekend I went there instead of my other running location, a trail in the woods.  About 3 miles or so into my run some rude girl who was obviously a casual rider made some rather derogatory comments to her friends about my face and running in general.  This really set me off.  I mean, just the sheer rudeness of it.  If you are going say nasty things about people, at least say it out of earshot, you know?  It also did not escape my notice that I was a third of her size.  I have also become acutely aware of all the glares I get from heavier moms of special needs kiddos when I pick up or drop off my son to camp.

After venting about the girl today on my personal FaceBook page a friend made the comment that women in general are just nasty to each other.  She recalled a friend who ended their friendship after she lost a lot of baby weight years after the birth of her daughter.  It was only then that my friend realized that she was smaller than this ex-friend.  She made a great point in that some people equate trying to be healthy with selfish parenting.

While I realize I am lean and in excellent shape, I fail to see how this equates to selfish parenting.  When did having a child who needs extra care give the excuse to let ourselves go?  How does it give us permission to sit on the couch and eat poorly day in and day out?  How does this make it acceptable or somehow forgivable to stop caring for ourselves?  As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing selfish about what I do.  It has nothing to do with looking good or wearing a bikini and everything to do with my health.

I figure, if I have a child with special needs, I better plan to be around for a very, very long time!  I mean, jeez oh Pete! Have you seen the current system for disabled adults?  My health cannot be an added stressor to my day nor can I allow it to be a looming threat.  The only way I can ensure that, is by running and being healthy.  I often joke that I'm not training to be skinny, I'm training to be a fit bad-ass.  Well, it's true!

As an added bonus, since my son is very aware, he can see that his mother exercises and eats well and spends her time with people who support that.  In turn that sets a good example for him and he is more likely to follow that lead.  He also knows that his mother cares enough to be around for him for a very long time.  How is that selfish or bad?

My son being able to tell someone, "My mom runs because she loves me," is the best thing I could ask for.

So I guess in a way, I am a selfish parent.  I'm selfish enough to look out for my well-being for the sake of my son.  If I don't take care of me, how can I take care of him?

*Editor's note: I am not intending to bash anyone for their lifestyle.  To each their own.  I do not take issue with what people choose to do, only with how they treat me for my choices.  There is a double standard that exists and is total bullshit. While I know many suffer health issues, none are capable of preventing even basic healthy living.  Research proves this. I've alleviated many health related issues that could have left me couch bound.*

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Single Motherhood

Today is Mother's Day as we all know.  For some reason, this year I'm feeling particularly emotional about it.  As you all know I'm a single mom.  As in, a single mom by true definition. (Someone who raises her child entirely on her own, dad is non-existent: aka, single parenthood.)  It certainly hasn't been easy but it definitely has been rewarding.

I've had to fight for everything over the years.  Society is not kind to women in general and it is even more unkind to single mothers.  Single mothers with special needs children? Forget it!!  We are invisible to the world.  My son is only seen because I scream. A. Lot.  If I didn't, he'd be lost in the shuffle: no insurance, no services, and no where near where he is today.  He would still be a non-verbal, increasingly aggressive child.

I had to fight my way through college for my BA in Arts, then more recently for my MEd in Special Education.  I had to fight for every job I had and then fight to keep it.  As a single mom I can't just call dad in to help.  I am my own reinforcements.  I have to do it all on my own.  The kiddo gets sick at school?  It's me leaving work to pick him up.  As a woman I get paid less.  Imagine trying to pay your bills on a single, small income.  Getting a second job was a thought but never a reality.  Why?  Because when you have a special needs child, you just can't do it.  Someone has to fight for services.  Someone has to do the leg work.  Someone has to be home to care for him.  There is no tag team to happen here.  Once again, I'm left on my own. 

I would think that dating when you have typical children is hard enough.  But dating when you have a child with the complex needs that our kiddos have?  It's laughable.  With how special needs families split at such a high rate, how can our dating lives be successful?  The more care your child requires, the less time you have to focus on anything else.  Hell, you don't even have time to spend on yourself...  The balance is a hard one to find and keep.  Someone to watch the kiddo?  Can you hear me laughing yet?  On the upside, less than quality guys get weeded out reeeeeeallly quick. ;)

I make just over the limit for welfare.  Due to a loophole, a freaking LOOPHOLE, my son kept health insurance.  I often go without, making any doctor's appointments out of pocket expenses for me.  I didn't even qualify for the recent Obamacare stuff.  I made too little for it but too much for Medicaid.  I was even fined for it on my taxes this year.  Money I could have used to pay for my medical costs or care of my son, the IRS took as a fine...  Once again, we fell in the cracks.

There's a huge societal stigma on single motherhood still.  If my son does something unexpected or "wrong" then I'm to blame. Society blames it on the fact that he's being raised by a single mom.  Surely I can't raise him properly. (/snark)  They even blame me for his list of diagnosis.  (Yes, this crap seriously exists.) The attitudes I get from people are mind-boggling.

Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight.  That's all I do.  I fight for his rights.  I fight for my rights.  I fight against the stigma of being a single mom.  I fight for our ability to just live.

But you know what?

I wouldn't change a damn thing about it.  Nothing.

I love being a single mom.  It has taught us the real value of things in life.  We appreciate what little we have.  We appreciate our time together.  We actually SPEND time together.  We don't care about money or trinkets or the latest and greatest vacation.  We appreciate the beach just a mile from our house.  We appreciate the parks we can visit.  We appreciate visiting family and friends and just hanging out.  We have a love for life and the ability to actually enjoy it.  For us, the little things do matter.  (And hell, I don't even have to argue with anyone else about what I do with him or where I take him! BONUS! ;) Haha!)

For me, everything is two-fold.  Yes, the bad is as well but really I focus on the good.  Every achievement feels twice as good.  Every battle won is cause for celebration.  Every goal we surpass is defining. 

My son understands the value of love.  What it means to love someone.  Truly love.  And he is joyous, caring, nurturing, and frankly one of the best souls out there.  You won't see this child talk back to me.  You won't see him order me around.  You won't see him disrespect me or anyone else.  Something I see and am the recipient of on a daily basis as a teacher...  This is one of the best reflections you can have on you as a parent: a respectful, caring child.

Despite all of society's ignorance, this single mom (and many like me) are doing one hell of a bang up job raising beautiful children who will become amazing adults.  We defy the odds.  We are strong women who will never give up on making our children's dreams come true.  Society gives us barriers with a broken system stacked against us.  We don't take "no" for an answer.

We push through.  Here's to all the single moms (and dads!!) out there keeping up the good fight!

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Daily Image Struggle

I want to take a minute and deviate from the normal stuff I write about.  It's still relevant, since it's about being a mom, so don't worry. ;)

Every year about this time I start thinking about summer.  Since we live right off of one of the Great Lakes our whole summer revolves around water in some way.  The kiddo's love of swimming just feeds that.  I decided I would start trying to get into shape earlier since I spend a considerable amount of time on the sailboat and racing and if I start late, it's a rough season.  I have to keep up with the physical demands of it.  If you've been around you know I'm particularly fond of running.  Well, with the spring we are having, it just hasn't been warm enough.  So instead I pulled out some old stuff like this 30 day challenge thing I have (I'm on day 12) and some cardio ballroom type stuff (day 3).  My co-teacher is taking a different route, despite her middle age: crash diets and eating very little.  It makes me cringe.  What's my point?  I'm getting there. I promise.

I'm one of those people who tracks how I look.  Am I toning up?  How's my strength?  Is my asthma in control?  Is this even making a difference?  Is this worth the pain and effort of what I'm doing?  I'm lazy in the winter and while I don't fatten up per se, I lose a bit of definition.

So this morning as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror taking a picture to add to the others and thinking about how pleased I was with how I look right now, I started thinking about where this even came from.  I certainly wasn't like this in high school.  It hit me that I've had body issues my whole adult life.  Someone told me my freshman year at college that I was a hot commodity and that all the guys wanted to pursue me.  I laughed.  LAUGHED.  Why would they?  I've never thought I was anything special or particularly beautiful or anything.  They laughed back.  Then others told me the same.

And it began...  To stay "skinny" I would survive off of iced tea and pierogies for weeks.  I would eat so few calories I honestly wonder now how the hell I survived that.  It was easier to not eat than to try and work out enough.  No one did anything, no one even noticed.

My pregnancy with my son ended that much.  Suddenly I had to eat.  After I had him he was so hungry he sucked the weight right out of me.  I was constantly burning the calories to feed him.  Then he weaned.  Then it began again but in a different way.  Suddenly my imperfections weren't about weight.  It was about the stretched out tummy and seemingly permanent baby pooch (and when you are as petite as I am it is quite noticeable).  I felt like a kangaroo.  Despite what is a very teeny waist, that was enough to mess it all up for me mentally.

While still in college, and after having my son, I took a nutrition class.  Part of the class was to track our diets for a period of time and take it to the resident dietician.  She threw up red flags right away over where I was getting my calories from (mostly juices).  I still didn't eat much.  I blamed it on being in college with a child to feed, I was making sure he had enough.  (Poor excuse, I know...)

For 12 years it's been a struggle.  What I was told in college I have now heard throughout my adult life.  I've lived this love/hate relationship with my body over what should be easy to be ok with.  Sometimes I'm able to convince myself that it's all ok because this body nurtured and gave me this amazing and healthy kiddo.  You would think it would be enough.  But when you spend most of your life having your worth tied to how you look it creates this complex in your mind.

In a world where people have put so much focus on how others look (especially women) it's a small wonder I'm still struggling.  Just look at the magazine covers.  It's awful being constantly bombarded with ways to get the "perfect, tight body."  Even in college one of the sororities had the "Sexy Six" and from what I was told, it was a fierce fight to get that honor.  The other sisters would take a marker to you and mark everything you had to correct.  You also had to fit a certain standard to even get in.  Wow....  Some dating websites are even that way.  The value is put in numbers as opposed to fitness.  The value is in appearances as opposed to healthy.

What makes it even worse is that I get hit from two sides.  I get hit from the "You're too fat" side because of my post baby body.  But I also get hit from the "You're too skinny, eat a cheeseburger" side because I have a tiny 26 inch waist.  Every time I go out someone glares at me.  Even at the grocery store.  Can you imagine what the beach feels like in my bikini?  Some days I want to eat burgers and bon bons to get rid of the "skinny" attackers and other days I want to starve myself to get rid of the "fat" attackers.  I have grown very weary of this two sided attack.

Can you see what this can do to someone?  What a messed up, convoluted world we live in...

I now try to spend my time telling myself that I'm going to be healthy for me and my kiddo.  I surround myself with people who put value where it belongs.  Some days this is easier than others because the attackers can still get in.  I just try to hold firm and remind myself of what matters: being here for Sparky.  Staying healthy (including my diet) and moving and hopefully, that will encourage him as well.  After all, who else really matters?  I just have to keep my confidence up and remember to love myself.  So if you are like me and struggling for similar reasons (with either attack) just remind yourself that you have healthy happy children, and it was your amazing body that did it for you.  Half the battle with body image is confidence.  Each mark on our body is part of our story, regardless of our gender and whether they are from pregnancy or not, and it's up to us to embrace that.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lost, Again...

     It was a typical Sunday afternoon.  Laundry was in progress, Sparky was playing with his Legos, and the cats were snoozing.  I was printing some pictures for a project I needed on Monday.  Ok, a lot of pictures.  So naturally I ran out of ink.  I debated for a little while whether or not I really, really wanted to make a run to WalMart on a nice Sunday afternoon when there would no doubt be lots of people out.  In the end, the trip won out as I really did need to finish the project up.
     So I packed up Sparky and off we went.  He was slightly disgruntled over being disrupted from his Legos but he gets over things quickly and by the time we got there he was over it.  I made my way over to the electronics section so I could get the ink I needed.  I let go of him (I always hold his hand for safety's sake when we are out but my cast really limits my ability here) and picked up the ink.  We went on our way and I told him we were going to stop to get some sheet protectors.  I looked from him and looked down the aisle I thought was correct and looked back.
    He was gone.  Just like that.  A blink and gone.  I looked around.  I checked up and down several aisles.  How could a 4 foot 9 inch, 12 year old in a red coat disappear that quick?!?!?  I could call his phone! Shit.... It's in my purse.  The ONE time it isn't in his pocket is the one time he disappears.  Fuck.....  Now what?  I keep looking.  I check the games knowing he usually likes checking those out.  Nope.  Too much time is passing....
     Too much time.....
     I spot a group of about six employees gathered around the sewing desk.  I stop and ask them if they've seen a 12 year old boy in a red coat come by.  Blank stares....  One asked me what he looked like and I grabbed my phone to pull up a photo of him in his coat (thank god I take so many pictures!!!) and another asks if I want her to call him over to the desk.  I looked at her dead in the face and said, "He's a 12 year old Autistic.  He won't know what this desk is or how to find it."
     I was met with six panicked faces.  I faltered.
     I show the one employee his photo and she calls out on the radio.  Another asks if I want to call a Code Adam.  "Umm... Well... I don't know that it's necessary...." (MORON!!! Why wouldn't I say YES! Always say YES folks! ALWAYS!)
     While I fumble more time ticks away.  "Call it." (Why would I even debate that?!?!?!)
     Just as she had the phone in her hand and was about to call it I hear myself being paged over the PA system to report to the service desk.  He's been found!
     I take off straight to the desk and find him there, cool as a cucumber with an employee and a lady and her husband.  She started telling me how thrilled she was that they were able to get him to me and told me how well he did.  She said he walked up to her and said, "I think I'm lost and need help."  She and her husband immediately walked him to the service desk so I could be paged.  I thanked her far too many times and the kiddo gave her a hug.  She kept saying he did very well and she was just glad to get him back to me.  Sparky told me he was very proud of himself because he saved himself.  Yes, buddy.  Yes you did...
     I tucked his hand under my arm and we went on our way.  It wasn't long before the whole thing hit me and I was fighting back major tears.  Again.  This happened again.  I thought we were past major things like elopements and random wanderings.  His separation anxiety was always enough to keep him in check and keep him close by.  This time I managed to ward off the worst case scenarios that threatened to take over my mind.
     I can't even tell you how proud I am of him.  If you would have asked me if he would have known what to do in that situation I would have been skeptical enough to tell you no.  He usually panics if he can't see me and we are in the same aisle.  How could he know what to do if he discovered he wasn't in the same aisle?  Or even the next aisle over?  When push came to shove this kiddo kept his cool and found help further proving that he is full of marvelous surprises.

      I learned a lot from this and was fueled a little to anger as well.  Things I learned?  Always go with the Code Adam.  While not enough time passed for him to have gotten out of the store by the time the employee was going to call it, you just never know.  You just don't.  I was fortunate enough that Sparky approached a couple of respectable folks and not someone shady for help.  (I have always said he was a great judge of character, yay Sparky!)  Also, always put his phone in his pocket.  I did buy the damn thing to be able to track his whereabouts and make sure he can reach me.  Anything can happen at any time.  Even in the store.  A minor oversight could have had major consequences. 
      Why was I angry?  Because society doesn't really give me a great way of keeping him with me.  To make things worse, I was limited in what I could do because of my cast.  I really only had one hand to work with.  It's not like I could tie a tether to him to make sure he stays with me.  (This totally reminds me of the great bathroom debate with taking older boys into the women's restroom.)  I'd be crucified by people for daring to "leash" my son.  Just look at what happens when parents put those tethers on their typical toddlers!  He's too big to stick in a cart.  So really, what do I do?  Even when I have two working hands on my side it is difficult to keep him with me.  Not because I'm negligent in anyway, but because wandering kids literally can disappear in the blink of an eye.  You don't realize that it's the case until it happens to you.  Until then, it seems impossible.
      But, reality is reality, and this is my reality.  Wandering happens for many reasons: curiosity about something they see, distraction, zoning out, the list goes on.  While I may never know the reason why he wandered off, I will continue to be amazed at the speed of it.  Even the most prepared among us can be caught unprepared.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Elopement: Tools and Resources to Prepare

With summer soon to be upon us again I wanted to take a moment to be serious.  Weird, right? ;)

No one really wants to think about the possibility of losing their child through wandering or otherwise but it is a reality that many of us face.  With this in mind I wanted to give you a couple of quick resources that I found to help you get started in case of an emergency.  Many of you know my son wandered off 4 years ago now and we were very fortunate that he was found safely.  (You can read my posts about it here and here.)

First and foremost, I would highly encourage you to set up a meeting with your local law enforcement and local Fire/EMS departments as well.  It would be very beneficial for your child to meet and become familiar with their faces and uniforms and for the First Responders to be familiar with your child in the even of any emergency (accident, fire, etc.).  Children can be intimidated by them so it is crucial that they understand they are there to help!

If you need some assistance in that area please check out what Jerry, a New Jersey Police Officer and father of an Autistic boy, has to say.  You can see his page here and his blog here.  He wrote two amazing posts about wandering and police contact that you simply must see that he wrote for Autism After 16.

AWAARE has many awesome tools and is loaded with information to help families and first responders.  You can access their website here.  They do have the Big Red Toolbox but they have digital tool boxes as well.  I would definitely check out their Wandering Brochure for information about wandering and tips you can use to prevent wandering and to prevent a tragedy in case wandering does occur.  You can access the brochure here.

To help you stay organized in your planning you can use the Caregiver Checklist here.

The first one I want to toss out there is a Family Wandering Emergency Plan.  It can be used for any family member who may wander off.  It helps you prepare ahead of time in case your child wanders off so that you know what to do.  It allows you to come up with search areas and people to search those areas, emergency phone numbers, what to provide when you call 911, and it gives you other numbers such as NCMEC.

This form can be found here.

The second form is for you to give first responders and is an Autism Elopement Alert form.  This form is used by those first responders to give them identifying information, a photo, and areas where your child may be found.  It includes medical diagnosis, medications, if they are verbal or non-verbal, their preferred method of communication, etc.  This form will help pull much needed information together in one spot to aide in helping your child be found quickly.  Take this form when you go to meet them!

This form can be found here.

You can find all of their safety materials including the toolbkits for Caregivers and First Responders here.

In speaking from experience, please be prepared!!

**Editor's note: This is meant to get you started.  Please talk to your local Autism groups and First Responders to get additional safety and preparedness tips and resources for your child.**