Like a lot of people, I have my email come to my phone.
Yesterday morning, I checked it while I was getting up and discovered two that stopped me in my routine.
The first one was that a 12-year-old autistic boy was missing.
The second one was that the 12-year-old autistic boy was found “in the water.” (At the time I’m posting this, he was taken care of in the hospital because he was suffering from hypothermia. A sergeant saw his wet clothes and dry shoes at the shore, spotted him, and then went in to rescue him.)
But I didn’t know that he was still alive when I saw that headline.
I thought he, like so many other autistic kids who elope, was found dead in the water.
And I felt sick.
Sick like someone had punched me in the stomach. Sick like I couldn’t breathe in and out anymore. Sick like I had to sit down for a minute with my head down.
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t my kid. It was a kid. It could have been my kid.
Last week, we had an incident at school.
There is some he said/she said going on, but I have faith in the version of the story I heard from the bus aide and the bus driver:
While were loading up a kid with a wheelchair onto the bus, the aide noticed Simon.standing alone. No one was near him. No one was watching him. No one seemed to notice him.
According to the aide (and the bus driver), he seemed confused and had begun wandering from the bus area towards the car rider line.
So not cool.
So not cool it’s dangerous.
They did spot him, and they did get him and put him on the bus.
Nothing bad happened.
But all it would have taken was a one or more people not paying attention, and Simon could have been in the ocean (metaphorically since we’re quite far from the ocean).
Wandering down the road isn’t much better. It’s a busy road, and if he had gone in one direction, he’d wind up near some woods. If he’d gone in the other direction, he’d be heading towards the main highway that goes from Galveston to Dallas and beyond.
Neither of those options are much better than the ocean. Neither of those options are safe. Neither of those options make my stomach feel good.
How does this end?
Simon’s teacher is instituting a few new policies to try to make sure it never happens again. But we’re human. It most likely will happen again, even if it’s not on her watch.
This is life with an autistic child.
I don’t want to, and don’t mean to, take away from the tragedy that happened in Lake Jackson on the 5th. A five year old girl was hit and killed by a truck. It was a freak accident. The girl was walking behind her father. She stopped and got down to look in a storm drain. She was too low to be seen by the driver.
I cannot image the pain that goes with having your child die. Especially in such a sudden way. Especially in a way that can lead to you blaming yourself.
Think about it: you turn your back for half a minute. You miss seeing that your child has gotten down on the ground. You don’t see that your child is in danger. It takes almost no time at all.
You will potentially feel that guilt for the rest of your life, I would imagine. I could only think that it’s nearly impossible to erase the feeling. Even though it isn’t your fault, even though it was just a momentary lapse – one that every parent has every day, multiple times, probably – it is the one lapse that will never go away. Never be forgotten.
This is a fear of so many parents and caregivers of those who love someone with autism.
It’s a real fear, a daily fear, a constant fear. A terrifying aspect of autism.
Children, and adults, can decide to run for no reason or for some unknown reason.
Simon is afraid of birds. Hearing birds, seeing birds, sensing birds…that can set him off. We have a handicapped tag to make sure that, on days that when the birds are converging, we can park close by and don’t have to worry about him making a break for it across the parking lot.
But not everyone can do that.
And not everyone can hold onto the person that wants to run. Or keep an eye on them 24/7. There are lapses. There are moments. And they are the scariest parts of the day.