My son Stalen is almost 6 years old and on the autism spectrum. His safety is my priority, always.
He has no sense of safety or danger. He elopes. He is a runner. He is an opportunist. As soon as he sees an opportunity he bolts.
When these incidents occur, his strength and speed are superhuman. He has crossed beyond the tree line into the woods on me a couple of times. He has unlocked the door once and gone outside—luckily into our fenced-in backyard. He has bolted across our front lawn with his toes touching the edge of the street just before I could catch him. He has even taken off inside a facility.
As he gets older, as he gets stronger, as more opportunities surface, the risk increases.
I’ve been thinking about safety so much lately as Stalen will be going off to school in a few short months. I’m not worried about him performing academically in school, I’m worried about his safety.
Have you ever lost track of your child, even for a second? You thought they were in one place but they weren’t. You yell their name and there is no answer. You begin searching frantically. You can feel the anxiousness in your every breath and the tight sickening feeling deep in the pit of your stomach. You’re about to erupt in complete utter hysteria. Panic.
You beg God desperately, pleading, ”Please let my baby be okay. I will do anything.”
There are no words to describe that feeling.
Just writing this makes me feel sick and my heart beats faster.
It’s been the greatest challenge of my life to keep my son safe these past six years. There is one rule that I live by: He doesn’t leave the house without me. I am always on. I’m always calculating his next move. This is the life I’ve adapted to, it’s immediate and natural for me to identify the safety risks and exits before I even realize the presence of others in a space.
My son also wears a Project Lifesaver radio-frequency tracking device, an alert me band that indicates he has non-verbal autism and has two emergency phone numbers. Every year I update and renew his information in the police vulnerable person registry where we live. I also notify our Project Lifesaver team each time we travel, and they issue a travel advisory to authorities in the area that we travel to.
We avoid large crowds. When we go out I dress him in bright colors so my eyes can find him quickly.
When we moved to our neighborhood two years ago, at every interaction with neighbors I remind them, “If you see my son outside without me, there’s something wrong—please help.”
I know we are doing all the right things. But, the problem with safety issues is that something can happen so quickly.
Despite all the precautions, in one second, in the blink of an eye, my greatest fear could come true.
I could look down, get distracted, accidentally let go of his hand. He could wriggle away from me. Someone could stop me for directions. My phone could ring. Someone may be in distress and ask me for help. He could get a door open when I go to pee. So many possibilities.
One second. In the blink of an eye.
I’m reminded of the risks and heartache almost every day when a photo shows up on my newsfeed or on my tv. When I look at the face of the autistic person that has eloped and is missing, I think of my son. I think of the close calls and near misses. I think that it easily could be him. I think of the family searching for their baby. I feel their heartache every single time. I think of that one second, blink of an eye, that may have changed their lives forever.
Like so many others, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to keep my son safe. I just hope and pray that what I am doing is enough.