My Child Wanders

This evening my husband ran out to get some corn at a local farm.  I was finishing my supper when I realized the house was unnaturally quiet.  I had a moment of panic, then realized Paul had come back and gotten our 12 year old to go with him on the tandem bicycle.

I panicked over Nathan's absence because he is a wanderer.  An elopement risk.

This year over a dozen children with autism have died after wandering away from safety and into danger in the US alone.  While most were smaller children, several were adolescent.

With autism, the risk of danger does not always come with age.  50% of children with autism have some degree of elopement.  Our older son has wandered away, but this was mostly through inattention to what he should have been doing.  Nathan is often driven to leave.  Drawn by the remembrance of gum machines.  Or just wandering, trying doors (which in our small town are often left open.)  While he loves water and pools, we have rarely given him access to them, and have none that he knows of nearby.  I hope.

Everywhere we go, we hand him off.  "I'm going to the bathroom, can you watch him?"  We watch for areas that would be high interest to him and sometimes establish a physical link by holding hands.  Other adults are not as aware as we are and, while we don't tell them we don't trust them, we don't hand him off to them.  Because they don't understand the gravity of the hand-off.  I have told my mother, who watches him sometimes when Paul has a dentist appointment, not to take him out of the house, because she can't pursue him.

I know what people say about the parents of these lost children.  "Why didn't they watch him better?  Don't they have locks?  What kind of parent would allow their child out of the house?"  To which I say "Have you ever been out with a toddler and turned around and had a small heart attack when she wasn't there?"

Now imagine that toddler with the motor skills of a teenager and intelligence to figure out locks.  But no words.  And not even the knowledge of danger that a 3 year old might have.  And an overwhelming drive to get to something.  That is Nathan.

That is those children.  A moment of inattention.  Children who wake in the night.  Parents who go to the bathroom.  A scream from another child that grabs your attention.  Do you attend to your child every second?  Is it possible?  No.  A thousand saves but one miss is a great average in basketball.  But it's potential death in real life autism.

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