This past week saw the drowning deaths of three beautiful children who had wandered away from their families. All three were autistic and non-verbal and were able to sneak away without their families noticing. They were all horrible tragedies and sadly the parenting skills of each of the families are being questioned in the wake of them.
What happened in each circumstance was NOT bad parenting of any sort. Nearly half of children with autism elope or wander away from home, school and public places. It's horrible and tragic when it happens but it's not always avoidable as much as people believe. Children move quickly and even the most diligent parent who is on the ball isn't always able to notice when they're not where they were two seconds before.
Imagine that being your lifestyle 24/7 where you're on constant alert worrying that your child will bolt away from you. That's not a ideal situation but most autism parents adopt a roll with it attitude about life because we're not really given another choice. Our children are often fearless - I know mine is - and have no or very little concept of danger. Water is a huge attraction for most of our kids and while we're aware of the dangers that can happen to them if they went into it unsupervised, they are not.
When people on the outskirts of autism parenting, i.e. parents of typical kids, hear of things like this happening I think it's easy to wonder if the parents who lose their children in this way somehow dropped the ball or let it happen in some way. People are especially quick to pass judgment about situations that they don't know much about or think that they would've handled differently if they were in the same situation. I don't know why we as parents do that to each other but we do and it's a sad fact. I've even heard some autism parents making judgmental comments about how the parents of these lost children should've been more alert and that somehow could've prevented these tragedies from happening. That bothers me even more than when parents of typically developed kids say those things. They're not true, not fair and do nothing in the way of offering up what those parents need the most right now - our support and prayers.
My son has wandered off on two separate occasions and each time we didn't know of his whereabouts for about ten minutes. Without exaggeration I can say that those were the longest ten minutes of my life each time it happened. In both instances we were out - once was at a Chuck E. Cheese and the other time we were on a school field trip to a pumpkin patch - and each time I got distracted for a second and he was gone. Both situations freaked me out and once I could breathe again after my child was found I was unbelievably relieved and thankful he was okay.
I was one of the lucky ones and I've never lost sight of that. I truly wish that the parents of Mikaela, Owen and 2 year-old Drew Howell whose story didn't make the national media were among the lucky ones as well.
RIP sweet babies.