This is an edited repost of a blog entry that was published on November 26, 2014 titled: For The Lost.
Elopement or wandering is every parents worse nightmare. Every year children and adults with autism lose their lives. There are hundreds more who wander or elope and are later found safe by their loved ones or police. Then there are the ones, the very unlucky ones, who go missing and are never found. The horrible hell that those families go thru. They must live with the knowledge that their child could be dead, harmed, scared... the unthinkable list goes on. Many of these autistic people have medical conditions furthering the urgency of the search.
When April rolls around everyone begins to talks about Autism awareness and yet there is never a mention of wandering and elopement. I believe that the only way to reduce deaths would be for the public to be aware of the danger. Also, for all of the parents and care givers to know that it is always a possibility and to be prepared. Even if an autistic person hasn't previously wandered there is always a chance for it regardless of age.
I will give you some statistics. I am sharing these to educate, not to cause fear. Please do your own research too. According to the National Autism Association an estimated 48% of children with autism are likely to wander or bolt from a safe place. That is almost four times that of their non ASD counterparts. A staggering 91% of ASD children 14 years and younger who died during the years 2009-2010, was by accidental drowning. Most of the those were due to elopement. Children with ASD are more likely to be drawn to water.
Now, if you haven't experienced this you might wonder how it could happen. And even question the parents ability to do their job. It's not that simple. I will share with you some examples of elopement. Unfortunately, these are examples from my personal experience. Yes, I cried as I wrote this.
Some children are always in the bolting mode. A split second of looking a way can be all that it takes. Having to be in a hyper vigilant state 24/7 is exhausting. Not being able to use the bathroom without your child being locked in the bathroom with you. Never showering without them locked in with you, checking at every sound. Hurrying thru a three minute shower in fear that they had managed to figure out how to get out of the bathroom. Constantly living in fear.
Another example of elopement, that is a bit trickier, would be a person who blots when they are suddenly overwhelmed. This is the type that catches you completely off guard. They may go months or years in between episodes. You may think that you are in the clear. Maybe, just maybe, they have out grown it. You relax your guard a bit. Then you suddenly find yourself running in flip flops trying to catch them before they make it to a busy road. Your heart is in your throat,(not one time has another parent tried to help me stop him). You promise your self to never let your guard down again.
One of the scariest, (for the parents or care giver), examples may be someone who when they suddenly become upset not only runs but hides too. Just as you give up and are about to dial 911 you find them. After you get them to calm down, you remind them that they have to answer when you call their name. You tell them how you love them and need to know that they are safe.
All of the above examples were triggered by sensory overload,(too much noise, people or bright lights), or emotional, (anxiety, fear or being sad). These are just some of many examples. People with Autism process incoming information differently. They can have a slower reaction time to verbal or visual commands. They might be frightened by strangers or the police. Ultimately, my loved one leaves the safe place that he is in not because he is being defiant, naughty, stubborn or malicious. It is much more complex then that. My best defense and only hope is to try and get my son to realize that when he feels that way running will only hurt him.
Before you read the end of this I want you to know that little Malik Drummond is still missing four months later. Please, click on the link.
Maybe, like me, you will find yourself praying. Praying for those who have lost their child in this tragic way. Praying for those who have someone missing. Praying for your child, that they will never become another statistic. Two days ago little 2 year old Malik Drummond walked out of his Searcy, AR home while his mom was bathing. As of this morning they sill haven't found him. He is whom I pray for today. I pray that, against all odds, he is found safe and alive. I don't know that there exists a solution for every case. Remember the next time you come across a story like his that it could be you. It could be your child lost and alone. Share their story and pray. The more people who know the facts, then maybe more people will pay attention if they see a child alone.
Lord have mercy on Malik and his family.
If you or someone you know, are in the care of someone who is autistic you can purchase the Big Red Safety box. The National Autism Association, also, has a program where you can get a Big Red Safety Box for free. For more information about wandering and elopement prevention please go to: http://nationalautismassociation.org/big-red-safety-box/