To someone not familiar with ASD this might call to mind a young couple, madly in love, who dash off under the cover of darkness and get married. In the ASD world, it means something completely different. I call it “getting happy feet”. Lots of our kiddos on the spectrum are prone to elope, wander,hit the road,or head out on their own, with absolutely no sense of danger. Step back in time with me to early June 2016.
Per my usual routine, I got Boo Bear’s meds ready that morning and headed into his room. I paused for a moment in the doorway and suddenly realized that there was no familiar lump in the bed. In fact, he was not in the room at all. The window was open and Boo was gone. My first thought was kidnapping, but then as I looked out the window (about a good 8 foot drop) I realized that he had high tailed it. My next move was to call 911. I called them and explained that I had a nonverbal escape artist on my hands. He wears a LoJack safety bracelet which sends out a signal and can be picked up by receiver carried by the police or fire fighters. I passed this information along as well. The person on the other end took my information and put me on hold for a moment, I could hear chatting in the background. When she came back on she began asking if he was wearing blue footie pajamas and a red t-shirt when he vanished. I confirmed that he was. At that moment a police cruiser pulled up in front of the house. I told the dispatcher a cop had arrived and she told me to hang up. I ran down the steps with my heart in my throat. A young woman met me on the lawn and said, “Your son is at Children’s Hospital.” I almost fainted. She followed by saying, “He is fine.” I decided not to faint, but was feeling oddly light headed.
Apparently, Boo had pushed up the window, popped out the screen and jumped out the window without a scratch. He then headed up the road to Super America in a quest for Sour Patch kids. Miraculously, he crossed a busy road unscathed and went into the store. The manager thought it odd that a non verbal kid in pajamas had just come in and was raiding the candy. She pulled him aside, got him some candy and juice and called the police. Since his Lo-Jack ankle bracelet was under his footies, no one saw it. Boo could not tell them his name, so the lady cop took him to the ER at Children’s. He decided he really liked his ride in the police car and the lady cop and was quite charming, or so I am told. By the time Robert and I got to the ER, there was quite the party going on. We entered a room where Boo Bear was holding court to two police officers, several nurses, and a young MD. He was having a find old time and seem delighted that was had joined the party as well. He did not have a bump or a scratch on him. His vastly relieved father and I took him home, dressed him for school and took him to Bridge View. He happily took his teacher’s hand and trotted off, leaving his father and me to collapse in a heap. As of that afternoon Boo’s window had a new screen and three different locks on the window. He has not made an out the window escape since.
What can we learn from this? Kiddos on the spectrum like to elope. They are often attracted to water. Supposedly, elopement begins to decrease at about age 10, but at 15 Boo Bear shows no signs of slowing down. If you have a wanderer the best advice I can give you is to get a GPS of some kind of a Lo Jack safety bracelet. Before anything happens, give a picture and a description of your child to the local police. Explain to them that your child is on the spectrum and will probably not respond in a normal manner and may not even respond to his name. We are lucky that in St. Paul we have a well trained police force. One of the officer has 2 sons on the spectrum and has trained his coworkers on how to approach and work with individuals on the spectrum. Sadly, many cops in other cities lack this training. If you feel that your police force does not have the training to deal with individuals on the spectrum, suggest to them that this is necessary. Who knows, they might be the one that rescues your child when he decides to elope.