I have to post tonight, as I am going on a field trip with my autistic son and the 5 other kiddoes in his special needs class tomorrow. We are going to the zoo with the rest of our school’s first graders. A big, huge, open zoo. We have been to this zoo numerous times as a family. But he has never gone with school. And the thought of him there without me freaks me out. Big time.
Tate has not, to this point, been a wanderer or an eloper. He follows our rules about staying in the house and in the yard. He stays with adults and likes being part of a group. We make sure to keep doors and windows locked. We have established rules about leaving the house. To this point, he has not had an interest in getting outside without asking us. We are lucky. We are blessed. He’s verbal and often will ask to go outside. He has always asked us before leaving the house. Always. And, our lovely child, thanks be to God, often comes looking for us when he can’t see us.
When we are out in public places, though, we have had moments where he wanders just slightly ahead of us. He is autistic. When his attention is captivated by a desired object like a fan or running water (I know!!), he may not answer when we call his name. The allure of his beloved stimmies is more of a draw than the sound of his parents’ voices. Or his brothers’. Or a relative. Or a good family friend. Or a teacher. Like many autistics, he doesn’t have the same sense of fear or executive function to know that he is in danger. He knows that something makes him calm/happy/regulated, and he will seek it.
Most of the time when Tate wanders slightly ahead of us, he turns it into a chase game. If I shout his name, he turns to me and smiles. If I run after him, he runs faster, or goes in the opposite direction. We have been fortunate that when these situations arise, we are either able to get to him in time to keep him safe, or we are beneficiaries of the kindness of a stranger.
I was shocked and saddened last week by the loss of Mikaela Lynch. That baby could have been my baby. Tate loves water. All by his lonesome, he would have seen the water and felt excited. The water would have been a draw…the noise would calm him if he was at all upset. And…and…I get all choked up when I think about what happened. That could have been Tate. So, as the Lynch family mourns, and tries to pick up the pieces, they came under attack. The harsh criticism of their parenting during their tragedy is awful. Just. Awful.
Instead of judging her parents, who are grieving right now, show them support. Let them know that we can’t even imagine what pain they are enduring. That we know just how close to the brink we all are every day to having a similar story. The Lynch family and their community are in my prayers. I pray that they find some solace and comfort during their time of profound grief and loss.
Please, if you have autistic children, or know someone who does, look into resources that can help you keep them safe. I know we are re-evaluating our safety plans for our son. And we will be talking with neighbors, as well. Especially the ones who own pools that are not protected by fences or gates, now that summer seems to have arrived.