Those of us, who couldn’t help the family, felt the despair of “that could have been my family”.
Every autism parent I have ever spoken to has stories of losing their child. Some for only moments, some for painstaking minutes and for some, unfortunately, they’ve lost them forever. Thankfully for Luke’s family after five long days, he was found. Alive and dehydrated this amazing boy had managed to survive four nights of cold wet autumn weather, and how he did it, we may never know, but they have their little boy back.
So how do you stop kids from getting lost on the spectrum?
Of My Three Aspies I only have one wanderer. If he sees something that interests him, he’s off like a flash. In seconds he is gone and if you miss the streak, the search is on. When Bailey was three we were playing at a park in the inner Melbourne suburb of Prahran. We were catching up with a friend who used to be the boy’s Nanny. The park was quite open and surrounded by two roads, one busy and one full of parked cars. A couple of moments of distraction and Bailey was gone.
I ran for one road, she for the other. He was nowhere to be seen. The adrenaline surged quickly and panic set in. Where on earth was he. I started looking between the parked cars as my friend was scouring the rest of the playground whilst looking after my oldest Casey. Bailey had quite simply disappeared. After about 10 minutes of frantic searching and fearing the worst Bailey suddenly emerged from a nearby building. The building had automatic sensors that had opened the door and allowed him to go in.
He wasn’t at all distressed. Just curious. From that moment on, we’ve taken precautions to try our hardest not to lose Bailey. I wish I could say they’ve worked but unfortunately there is no foolproof solution to the wandering Aspie. But we have tried.
Whenever we go somewhere public Bailey always wears red. In fact, almost his entire wardrobe of shirts are red because if there’s one colour that stands out in a crowd or from the other side of an oval, it’s red.
We recently bought Bailey a wet suit due to his inability to regulate body temperature and I was so delighted that they came in fluoro colours! Maybe I need to start my own line of fluoro reflective clothing to help find the wandering Aspie.
If we ever go to an event I make sure the boys carry one of my business cards that has my name, photo and phone number on it. It doesn’t have their name or home address so it’s safe to hand over to a stranger if they get lost. Some parents write their mobile phone on the child’s arm, hey, whatever works!
One on One
Although we have three aspies, on excursions either Andrew or I are assigned Bailey. It’s very clear who is in charge of him and who has the other two children. That way there can be no “I thought you were watching him” situations. We learnt this one from experience!
Our favourite outings are to either Scienceworks or the Melbourne Museum. As soon as we get there I designate a “when I’m lost” meeting spot. It is usually a chair or bench near an information counter. It doesn’t always work as having ADHD means that Bailey can only sit still for about two minutes. But then there’s plan B, the loud speaker. Yes people, when you hear the announcement for a lost child chances are it’s often one of My Three Aspies.
Doesn’t work. When you have a child who is constantly sensory seeking touch, the last thing they want to do is have their hands taken away. It’s the last resort, usually around roads.
We don’t go to the show. We don’t go camping outside of our backyard. When we do camp in the backyard the fireplace is contained in a Weber BBQ a long way from the tent.
Until last year the boys had never swam in the ocean. When I finally let go and allow them, in shallow water, I made sure an adult was by their side at all times. I’m not paranoid, just cautious. And it might be a while before we venture into the ocean again, but that’s another story that you can read about here:
I must be a seasoned child wandering Aspie Mum, as I didn’t panic. I just calmly walked in the direction they had said and started looking into cars. Fortunately the boys had their information wrong and he was in a grey car, our car. Fortunately I had uncharacteristically left the car door unlocked. Fortunately Bailey was safe. But as for Bailey and 11-year-old Luke I think these boys have more than just luck. They have something more looking after them.
Luke’s family had an enormous amount of support from their Church, an extended family who are a lifeline in desperate times. Every day I pray that God surrounds my boys with angels to protect them. Crossing roads, in the playground, on day trips, I pray that they have heavenly protection, which is more than I could ever provide myself. I’m not sure how Luke survived all those nights; some are saying it’s a miracle. But I’m sure Luke’s Mum, like me, prays everyday for the extra protection our kids need.
Special kids, special needs, special strategies. And a whole lot of faith. That’s what helps protect our kids from getting lost on the spectrum.