As a parent with a child with autism I have felt deep devastation while reading articles in the news lately about terrible things happening to children on the autism spectrum. Any of these events could have very well happened to my child. It bothers me that people who do not have children on the spectrum have preconceived notions that these things happen because of inadequate parenting. This could be farther from the truth.
My son Caleb was three years old. His cognitive ability was less than six months. Which means he acted and behaved like a 6 month old baby in a three year old body. One day my husband and I were in the kitchen preparing our evening meal. Caleb was upstairs playing with our other three children who were older. About 20 minutes later our next door neighbor knocked at our door. With NO urgency in his voice, he said ” Ma’am your son is sitting on the roof”. I was shocked. I yelled for my husband and we both rushed upstairs to my bedroom window (which was the only room with a roof). We had one of those screens in the window that the window sits on top of. Caleb had pushed it aside and climbed onto the roof. He was just sitting there watching the cars drive by.
At that time in his development, if we called for Caleb he would run. So my husband and I strategized on how best to get him back to safety. My husband decided to climb out the window and sit on the roof with him. He sat there talking with Caleb for five minutes or so. Then he suggested to Caleb that they come back inside because dinner was almost done. He gladly got up and came inside.
We had no anticipation that this kind of event would ever happen! On another separate occasion I ran upstairs to grab a pair of socks so I could leave and take Caleb to the doctor for a well child visit. I literally was only gone a minute. In that time, Caleb being three and half or four years old managed to unlock the deadbolt of the house, climb on top of the couch and unlock the other lock, unlock the screen door on the other side and he was GONE!
There is nothing worse than the panic a mother feels when her child is missing. I lived in the city of Rochester NY on a little side street between two main roads. Caleb was not in sight. After about fifteen minutes of looking for him I decided to check our tiny back yard. I saw Caleb in the neighbors yard. He had managed at his age to scale a six foot wooden privacy fence and landed into the yard holding two dobermans. We managed to get him to safety but it was not easy. The dobermans were trying to protect HIM and growled and snared at us. I did finally manage to get him to come to us.
There were other occasions as well. He managed to get out of the house several times and ran down the main roads nearly getting hit by cars. I often would hear screeching of the car tires to prevent hitting him. One day while coming home from work I pulled up in front of my house. Our next door neighbor was watching him while I worked. As I pulled up I saw Caleb hanging out of a three story window. The babysitter had no clue.
Other instances included Caleb setting the kitchen on fire (a bag of groceries was on top and he turned the stove on and it set fire). A bus driver at 5 yrs old dropped him off in front of the house without an adult. He did not wait for the baby sitter to come get him. He just let him off and left him alone. My babysitter called me at work saying the bus didn’t come. I called the bus company and they verified that Caleb was indeed dropped off. I asked them to check the bus to be sure he was not hiding. They informed me that 60 MINUTES had lapsed since the drop off! He was not in the bus, nor in the care of the babysitter! My heart jumped into my chest! WHERE WAS CALEB???
I drove home as fast as I could in a deep PANIC. I strolled the neighborhood looking for him. I had no idea where to look. I looked for over an hour. I walked home to see if by chance he made it back to the house. After I looked through the backyard and house I reached the living room to go out and search again. A woman (MY FOREVER ANGEL) was standing on my porch with Caleb holding her hand! This older woman had found my son strolling down the middle of a main road and RESCUED HIM. She said she could tell he had autism. He had limited language at that time. She strolled door to door asking anyone she found if they recognized my son. She happened to come across my little street, only a block long and saw an expression on Caleb’s face that it was familiar. She then proceeded down our street going door to door. When she reached our house she felt a tug on her hand from Caleb that this was the right house. I will be forever grateful for this FINE woman who cared enough for someone else’s kid to get him to safety.
My son could have been killed that day if it was not for this wonderful angel of a woman. If we had lived in an area where there was water he could have drowned like so many others in the news lately.
I am writing this because there is so many preconceived notions about these tragedies affecting our autistic children that are completely and totally unfair. How many of “normal” parents spend two minutes in the bathroom with their kids playing quietly? NO ONE understands what it is like for an parent of an autistic child to fear for their child’s safety every second of every day. In recent news, there was an mom of a child affected by autism. Her child disappeared in the few minutes it took her to unload the groceries out of her car!
When Caleb got older and less of a safety risk, it was still difficult to let go of that “PANIC” I felt inside that had been there for so many many years. On the day he graduated from high school with his peers I sat in the audience and bawled. For the first time EVER I knew I no longer had to worry about his safety (at least not in same degree). I could let that part of being an autism mom GO.
Please do NOT make judgement’s on these parents. These parents are doing the best they can. I see myself as a GOOD mother. But I too could have been one of those who was struck by unspeakable tragedy. I am grateful that is one heartbreak I did NOT have to endure…