Every child with autism needs a guardian - we are blessed to have one furry guardian and one plastic transmitter "guardian." Here is one of our stories about the wandering we deal with and think about every day.
I don't know if I have posted before about Mr. O's tracking bracelet from Project Lifesaver, but I have been thinking a lot about it lately. Mainly for two reasons.
First of all, and mainly because of the Avonte story. If you don't know about Avonte, he was a 14 year old boy with autism who went missing and died - they found his remains months later. Poor sweet baby boy. The other reason is because my boy broke his tracking bracelet and so he hasn't been wearing it. His running has been limited lately, but since he is the master of surprises, this is not the best situation. We've been waiting to hear about getting it fixed, but tick tock, the clock is ticking.
This past weekend, my anxieties were realized when Mr. O took off. He went out in the snow to play with his siblings, and they all came in after a bit - but he tricked me and ran right back out the door and headed for the woods. These are the woods, and while we are not talking about a deep, scary forest, there's still the water to worry about, and the fact that it was freezing and snowing added to the fun.
Of course I grabbed my coat, had my boots on already (moms with runners know that shoes should be on at all times, just in case) and ran out the door after him, but he was out of sight by the time I got out the door. I didn't even take time to grab hat and mittens, but he is 12 years old and just that fast, stinker.
My awesome middle son and I headed into the woods and saw that since it was snowing, Mr. O left fresh tracks for us to follow. Thank goodness, at least we knew which way to run. As we got out of our yard and away from the hodge podge of other footprints, I noticed another set of footprints next to Mr. O's tracks. Paw prints. We followed the tracks through the woods, past the park, into the other side of our neighborhood and then right past our own street and into the next neighborhood. I was FREEZING and snowing hard. My boy was dressed for the weather, but still, this was not the kind of weather for a kid to be lost in.
Then my 15 year old took off running - and I saw them. Sweet relief flooded my senses.
Our dog had slipped out the door without anyone even noticing. She stayed by his side the whole way. As soon as she saw us, she came bounding forward, smiling her dog smile because she knew Mr. O would be safe. We almost didn't get a dog, because Mr. O had a deathly fear of them (and still does fear other dogs). On this day, I felt such gratitude for the rescue that shared this wonderful guardian with us, and such gratitude to my good girl who kept the boy safe while he was running away in the snow.
The moral of the story? There are a few morals of this story, the way I see it.
1. Kids with autism often "wander" - which sounds like a peaceful stroll, but can actually be a full speed chase, can happen when you least expect it, and they are not dumb so they will fool you, unlock doors, sneak away when you aren't looking or duck out a window. Sometimes you do everything right and they still get away. Tracking bracelets are MUST. Avonte's law needs to pass! Every child who might wander away should have a tracking device available. I don't understand why this is even a question.
2. Dogs are great. Rescue dogs are the best. If you can find a way for your child with autism to have a pet, I think you should do it. We opted for a young dog instead of a puppy because she was already trained and we could see her temperament - puppies are adorable but they are too much work for this autism mama, and with so many older dogs in shelters, why not look there first? You will hit the jackpot - we did.
3. I really need to get Mr. O's tracking bracelet fixed. I should know by now that just because he hasn't wandered in months, it doesn't mean he won't surprise me a run right out the door. Yes, we found him quickly and yes he was safe, but what happens next time? Time to put a little pressure on the people who have promised to fix it for the last few months. I'm not good at that, but the time has come.
My thoughts continue to be with Avonte's family. My heart hurts for them, and at the same time my admiration for them grows. Only twenty four hours after Avonte's funeral, his mother and grandmother stood with Senator Charles Schumer as he proposed the new law that would provide children with autism the tracking bracelets. They know all too well how important this is. If Avonte had a bracelet, could they have saved him? It pains me to think - what a different outcome if Avonte had this device that costs under $100 and then a few dollars a month to maintain. How much money was spent hunting for him? How much money is spent looking for other kids with autism who wander away? Why doesn't every at risk kid (or adult) have a bracelet? It is time for this to happen.
Not every child is blessed like my son, with teenage brothers to chase him and a furry guardian to follow him through the snow and keep him from harm. But every child deserves a way to stay safe and be found. Big thanks to Project Lifesaver for our tracking bracelet, and to Puppies & More Rescue and Angela at The Animal Orphanage of Voorhees, for providing us with an amazing guardian. I hope Avonte's Law passes and we never lose another child in this way. What are we waiting for?