When anyone comes to visit my house, one of the first things you will hear me say is to be sure to lock the chain lock at all times. Perhaps to some, that sounds like paranoia, but if you have a runner like my Shaun, you understand all too well how serious this is.
Shortly after moving into our new home, we faced every parents worst nightmare firsthand. Shaun has always been really quick with figuring out how things worked. He was two at the time, but had already figured out how to lock and unlock doors. In our old apartment, the lock had been higher and just out of his reach. This was not the case in our new home and I did not realize this in time. While he was watching a movie in mommy and daddy's room, mommy was working on decorating his room, checking every few minutes or so because, well, he's a mischievous little booger. So imagine my surprise when just a minute after my last check in, the doorbell rang and I came to the door to discover it had been unlocked and cracked open. We were extremely lucky that the one neighbor who knew who he was had seen him strolling down the street and brought him back to us quickly. But in that moment your mind races with all of the what ifs- what if he'd been kidnapped or worse? what if a cop had found him? What if? What if? What if? We went to Home Depot that night and called housing to come install chain locks, high enough that he cannot reach. As he gets older and taller we will add alarms, bells, whatever it takes. He has tried to push screens out of windows and sneak out that way, so we only leave open windows that are partially blocked by our couch or that are high enough he cannot reach. He has recently learned to unlock windows, but at this point does not have the strength to open them on his own. Nonetheless we will be looking into ways to 'autism-proof' those as well. Whatever it takes to keep him safe and sound in our home will be done. We also use strollers nearly everywhere we go. Sometimes he'll do okay with holding hands, but most often he will try to wiggle free and given the chance he will run off. He has no sense of danger, no fear or strangers and very little communication if he were to be lost in a crowd. It's a very scary reality and we do not take it lightly.
For as lucky as we were, others have not been so lucky. The trouble with these situations is that all too often the children (or even adults) do not have the communication skills to help others find their way home. Some are completely nonverbal. Others, like my Shaun, have plenty of words but can't always use them to communicate much. He can tell you he wants something, and sometimes answer yes or no questions appropriately, though not always, and that's about the extent of it...unless you want a verbatim play by play of his school day or one of his favorite movies, but really how is that helpful. And let's not even get into the idea of running off in the nude- oh yes, it has happened. Shaun is most certainly a nudist!
I write this today because I woke up this morning to discover that someone had left my chain lock undone and while Shaun did not notice before I did, all of those emotions and what ifs still come flooding back. Perhaps it's one of those things that people truly don't understand, and maybe you really can't until it happens to you, but one of the goals for this blog has become to raise awareness about autism and special needs and so, this is definitely something worth knowing. If you know any parents of children with autism, and they sometimes seem a little strict on things, know that chances are they are strict on these things for a reason. There is never room for brain lapse when it comes to autism and safety, and we only do what it takes to help our children in every way possible.
For more information on autism and elopement/wandering, click here!