When browsing the news one day, my heart shortly stopped when I saw the headline, “The Dangers of Wandering Kids: Autism Community Mourns Three Drowning Deaths in One Week.” After describing these heartbreaking incidents, the article called for more attention and research into what causes children with autism to wander or elope. I agree with this need, but I would also like to add that we urgently need more resources for parents and caregivers to help keep children with autism safe. This can be a huge issue for many families, as it was for me.
You see, my grandson was a runner—and a fast one at that! When younger, he would impulsively take off, and because he lacked a sense of danger, he often darted toward the street or some other place where it is not safe to run. Keeping him safe while out in the community became one of my biggest concerns at the time.
One incident that was literally heart stopping was when he ran out of the front-yard directly toward the street and in front of an oncoming car. Thankfully, the driver kept to the speed limit of our residential neighborhood, and he was able to stop just inches from him. The driver was shook up and mad, and I was shaken, as I just hadn’t seen that one coming. One moment we were sitting together on the front porch, enjoying a lovely spring day, and the next he was standing in front of that car.
Another incident happened some time later. We used to get our haircuts at the same hairdresser, who was always very accommodating of my grandson’s needs. She would lock her shop door that led to the busy parking area out front, and would ask one of her employees to make sure he was playing or watching TV while it was my turn in the chair. One day, however, an associate came in and forgot to lock the door behind her, and my grandson made a run for it. Before we knew it, he was out the door and running into the grocery store next door. Thankfully, he didn’t run onto the road or into the parking lot, and we were able to catch up with him quickly. Still, the incident could have ended differently.
At one point, the running incidents were so frequent that I researched safety leashes, and I bought one that looked like a good temporary solution. One end attached to his belt loop, while the other end had a band that closed around my wrist with Velcro. It provided plenty of freedom of movement for him, as the leash was quite long, but at the same time, he could not run away from me. Logan seemed to like it, too, as he could walk independently while we were out in certain places, without him having to hold my hand.
Did I get some stares? Sure! Did some people question me about it? Oh, yes! Did I let it bother me? It did a little at first, but I soon realized that whenever confronted or asked about the leash, I had the opportunity to tell people about autism, and create a greater awareness. Whenever I took time to explain, the reactions were usually positive and supportive. In fact, one grandmother commented, “My grand-kids don’t have autism, but I might get one for my 3-year-old granddaughter! She always runs off and is so fast that I can barely catch up with her.”
Of course, the leash was a temporary measure used for safety reasons only, and I used it sparingly and only when absolutely necessary, such as while out in very busy places where my grandson could easily get lost in a crowd if he were to run or wander off.
I also worked hard to teach him safety rules, and this is why I wrote Danger Is…? for him. My grandson memorized the “10 Danger Rules” outlined in the book, which cover safety issues both inside and outside of the home. Now, when my grandson is reminded of the rules, he responds, and is redirected much easier.
When Connie Hammer, author of AUTISM PARENTING: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience reviewed my book, she wrote, “Even though there is so much more to teaching a child on the autism spectrum about danger and how to remain safe, this book is a wonderful place to start the conversation. A parent can always expand upon any one of these ten danger rules to help their child learn more about safety and begin to generalize to situations beyond their immediate environment. Safety is such an important issue for children with ASD, so don’t wait to talk about it, get a copy of this visually appealing and delightfully interactive book today.”
As I wrote in my Note to Parents at the back of the book, I published Danger Is…? with the sincere hope that it can contribute to keeping other children with autism safe also, and ultimately avoid tragic incidents like the ones detailed in that newspaper article.