Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Day I Lost Him

With all the influx of news of wandering and the abuse the Lynch family is receiving over their precious baby, I can't help but get upset.

Don't judge unless you know. Don't judge unless you've been there. Quit telling Neil Armstrong what it's like to be on the moon.

Ok. Maybe you don't know Mr. Armstrong but it is essentially what is happening.

These kiddos make professional escape artists look like amateurs.

My son wanders. He has along history of elopement from the time he was 2 and could walk off. He knows no fear. He loves water and we happen to live next to a rather giant body of it up here in the northeast corner of the country. So close, in fact, I could throw a rock into one of the Great Lakes. He knows how to swim. He attended the local YMCA for 8 years. His Autistic Support class at school also goes swimming once a week during the year. It's not fool proof, but it's a step in the right direction.

Two years ago, I lost him. Heck, all 5 of us in the house lost him and 3 of them were fireman. We were out in my sister's neck of the woods at her friend's house while sis's husband and the friend's hubby looked at my SUV. My sister, her friend FFK (who was pregnant at the time), me and our collective troop of kiddos hung out in the house. A and I had never been there before, but knew the people who lived there (FFK and her hubby FFM) We were there for a couple of hours without incident.

We were huddled around the kitchen island (the kitchen was an open space with the dining room and living room) while the kids all played in the living room just a couple of feet away. A has always had a love/hate relationship with my nephew Z. It goes way back to when Z was little (he is 2 years younger than A) and how he has ADHD and always wanted to play (he was a bit too intense for A) and A very much wanted to be left be. Naturally.

Some type of altercation happened between A and Z and both got yelled at by me. One was put on one couch, the other was put on another couch, and time out ensued. A was seething. At this point I don't recall what happened or why he was mad. But the kiddo was very upset (part of the reason for the time out, to help him calm down).

Then it happened. No warning. No sound. It just happened. I blinked and he disappeared. My sister said something to me, I turned to answer, when I turned back just a few seconds later, he was missing. I figured he went to the bathroom or went to another room to get away from Z. A quick bathroom check... No. So we check the room downstairs... No. Garage... No. Well, crap... We go outside.

He's nowhere to be seen. We had been calling his name but he is not answering (he was capable).

5 minutes....

We check the pool. We check the house again, around furniture, closets, under the couch (seriously, you'd be surprised where they'll squeeze into), the bedrooms. Nothing. I go back outside while FFK continues to search the house. My sister joins me shortly after. (FFM and BIL- also a FF- are out in my car test driving it). We walk around the house and check the neighbor's yards, calling his name. Nothing.

10  minutes....

Panic sets in. Where is my son? Why won't he answer? How far could he have traveled? I can see across the fields surrounding the house and I see nothing. The forests (we were in the countryside) are beyond the fields on each side. A major roadway is off to the north. Could he have made it to the woods that quickly? Could someone have picked him up off the road that soon? I start walking. I'm screaming his name...

15 minutes....

Still nothing. FFK is still searching the house. Since she's pregnant she got left to mind the house and kids and watch to see if he comes back. She keeps searching the house. My sister is traveling in the opposite direction of me. She spots her husband on the roadway but can't reach him, he's too far and cell service is bad in the area. Should I call the police? Will they think I'm a bad mother? Where is my son? Why did he run away from me? Could he have made it to the woods? What if he get's hurt? What if we can't find him? He'll never survive the night alone...

20 minutes...

I'm in a full panic. I get a text message out to M. He can't get to me but asks me to keep him posted. Grandma has been called (I don't remember by who). She's out of town so she can't help. I'm still screaming my son's name. Walking across the field towards a baseball field. Is he hiding in the dugout? Why won't he answer? Where is he? Why? Why? Why?

25 minutes...

M asks for an update. Still nothing. I'm still walking. Screaming. Now I'm crying. Should I call the police? Search and rescue? What if they say I'm a bad mother? What if they take him away from me? I'm with the very firemen who would search for him... If BIL wants to bring in reinforcements, ok. I love my son! I am a good mother! Why did he run off on me?

30 minutes...

I'm crying. I'm hoarse. I can barely get his name across my lips. I'm still walking. Still searching. Sobbing. Where can he be? Is he in the woods? Why won't he answer? Did someone take him? He'll never survive the night.... My mind is racing with grotesque images and every worst case scenario... Wolves.... Bears... Creeks.... Strangers....

35 minutes...

M messages me again. Do I need him? He's still delayed. Sis gets BIL. BIL and FFM start driving around the roadways looking for him, they hadn't seen him yet. FFK says he's still not around the house. Another friend joins the search and goes another direction. I can barely yell his name. Grief has taken over. Am I a bad mother? No! Stop thinking that!

40 minutes...

I can barely move. I can't see through my tears. I'm still walking... I'm on the verge of becoming a useless heap in someone's field. Where is my son? Why can't we find him? BIL doesn't see him on the roads. They keep looking. He'll never survive the night... Will they take my son away? Why did he do this? Why did he run? Where is he? Why can't I find him?

45 minutes...

I'm in the field. I can't move. I can't see. I could have been crawling at that point for all I know. Panic and grief have completely taken over... I'm lost. I feel hopeless. I feel like he's gone...

Suddenly I hear my name. The friend who joined the search is running towards me with the house phone. He's yelling. Running full speed to me.

They found him.

Words cannot describe how I felt. Where did they find him? Is he ok? Why did he do it?

I flew back to the house... I was completely overcome with a mix of relief, joy, and (I admit) anger.

Sheer luck brought him back to me. Yes, I said it, LUCK. FFK found him when she caught him sneaking back into the house.

I hugged him. I hugged the stuffing out of that kid. I'm pretty sure I hugged him so tight his eyes were threatening to pop out of his head. I cried some more. I asked him why he didn't answer me, why he didn't respond when he heard his name. I was angry. I was upset. I was hurt. He sat there, mute, unanswering. He didn't know why. Or at least (as I understand now) he had no way to tell me. He knew what he did. You could see it in his eyes. He kept saying he was sorry. He cried.

He was within 2 steps of me for the next 2 hours until we left. He had to remain within eyesight of me. Two.Steps.Away at most. This did mean he spent a considerable portion of his afternoon sitting on the garage floor.

Two years later, I know. I understand. He was mad. He was upset. He wanted to get away from being upset. So he walked off. He was taking a break in his mind. Escaping.

You think it won't happen to you, but then it does. We no longer have time outs. We now have time ins. If you don't know what that is, it's the exact opposite of a time out. Instead of him going to a corner or couch, he sits right next to me. Literally. Until I say he can go, he's stuck hip to hip with me. Time outs are too dangerous now.

To this day he still wanders but nothing like that day. I am lucky in that. Grateful even. He is now afraid of losing me (not sure why but I'm not going to argue the result). He now keeps me within eyesight. 

Locks have been installed (see previous post here) and continuous measures have been taken. I am constantly adjusting as he ages and gets bigger, more independent in ability and thinking. I honestly don't know what I will do when he's bigger than me and older. What will I do when I can no longer force him to hold my hand? I can't harness him. He won't fit into a stroller. I dread those days to come.

The fear remains. It's ever constant. I am hyper-vigilant. I have to be. I became the helicopter parent I never thought I'd have to be. The fear never leaves me. The store. School. Grandma's house. M's house. Aunt's house. It.Never.Leaves.

I will do what I need to in order to keep my precious baby safe.

Rest in peace Mikaela Lynch, Owen Black, Andrew Howell, and Freddie Williams. Angels taken from us far too soon.

Big Red Safety Box
Project Lifesaver
Autism Wandering and Elopement Initiative

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Wandering Blockade

I'm not even going to sugar coat it. I rarely do anyway. So...

Over half of all Autistic children wander. HALF.

It's a sobering statistic that over 90% of those children who lose their lives, drown.

It's kind of frightening really. Terrifying.

I have nightmares about it, especially this time of year.

My son is one who wanders.

When he was 5, I got him a medic alert bracelet with "Autism" engraved on the front. (It has since worn off but I'm afraid to take it off to get it re-engraved.) On the other side is his name, my name and relation, my cell phone number, and the instruction that he may not understand verbal commands. It is fitted with a special clasp that I can't even get off without the use of two pairs of pliers.

It is a reality that so many of us face. Our day to day lives are spent being the ultimate helicopter parent because, well, we HAVE to be. We don't have a choice. We can't take our eyes off of our child for fear (FEAR) that they will wander off and be lost. It isn't a parenting thing. It's an Autistic thing.

We spend hours installing and reinstalling locks and alarms on the windows and doors so that our child cannot escape and so that in case some window or door is opened, we are immediately alerted to such an event so we can rush to the scene and make our assessment.

My son knows no fear. He doesn't really think anything bad can happen. He is the epitome of childhood innocence.

I have often joked that if the house ever catches on fire, God help us because we won't be able to get out. The problem is, I'm not actually joking.

Front door (the door itself remains bolted):

Side (and main door we use, also remains bolted):

Back (sliding door, this is actually the second alarm I've had installed here, it is usually locked when I don't have it open for the summer breeze but it doesn't work well):

A note that can be found on all three doors to my house (he is an excellent reader):

Kitchen (which leads to the side door and basement), note all the screw holes. I can't tell you how many of these locks have been broken in the 6 years we've lived in this house. (He has since learned to climb on something to open the lock...)

The 1x1 board that prevents the sliding back door from opening:

 The lock in the track that prevents the sliding door from opening when engaged:

 My fenced in yard:

The gate to my fenced in yard, which used to have a bungee wrapped around it. He was able to undo it when he was 6. Now I rely on a 6 foot pole driven into the ground...

My front door blockade, complete with a note in the window warning people to not use this door:

And for good measure: the attic. Yes we actually have a door to our attic. It even has stairs on the other side to up into the attic. It also has plywood boards that make up the floor over the insulation and has and endless supply of rusty nails protruding a good 2 inches holding the roof down (he's only ever opened it once)....

I used to use door knob covers. He can defeat them. Could when he was 4. FOUR. No regular child safety anything works with him. The door alarms will beep and tell me which door is being opened and they are part of my fancy house alarm system. The house alarm is on any time I am asleep. ANY. (Let's face it, I have to sleep sometime, even if he doesn't, and I'm a single mom so...)

The only way we have to beat the drowning statistic is the 8 years he spent at the YMCA learning to swim. This kid can swim better than most people I know, including me. We live a stone's throw from one of the Great Lakes and who knows how many swimming pools. It was a must and my #1 investment so far. Is it foolproof? No. But it's the best I can do here.

Up until recently I drove a small sports car with only 2 doors and crammed him into the back seat so he couldn't get out. My current car is an SUV that has child locks built into the door.

I can't leave anything to chance.  If I do, it will surely mean potential disaster.

To date, (knock on wood) the only time I have ever lost him to wandering was somewhere other than home. The longest he's ever been lost is 45 minutes. Forty-five harrowing, panic-filled minutes of absolute dread. It was someplace we had never been. The only reason, ONLY reason, we found him after 45 minutes, is because by sheer LUCK he snuck back in the house where we were staying. LUCK that HE decided to wander back. (This is a post for another day though.)

He still wanders off at grandma's house, the store, the beach, school, camp, wherever. He gets curious, distracted, bored, or scared and just goes. Completely oblivious to the panic and fear he's left behind in those search for him.

He is always an arms length away. If we are in a crowded place or parking lot, you can bet I have a white knuckled grip on him.

It is a necessity. It is life. It is what is required to keep my precious boy safe.

Big Red Safety Box
Project Lifesaver
Autism Wandering and Elopement Initiative