As a parent one of the strongest instincts is to protect your child. You teach them not to touch hot surfaces, look both ways before crossing a street, not to talk to strangers and all the other things that every parent tries to drill into the brains of their children.
As an autism parent you do the same things, but often it can seem that the biggest source of danger that you have to protect your child from is themselves. Some kids with autism don't have an ounce of fear about them and they have impulse control issues which seem take over all rational thoughts. That is not a good combo. This is the stuff that makes for sleepless nights even when your child is allowing you to rest.
The past few months have shown just how dangerous it is when an autistic child wanders off from their family. Just this past week two more boys with autism lost their lives. That is sobering and really, really scary.
My son has struggled with what I see as impulse control issues off and on for a long time. When he's being good and able to think it through before he reacts he is an awesome kid. He might not want to listen to what he's being told to do or not to do but he does. Then something will trigger inside and he'll start behaving well.. like a little butthead who won't listen. When he's in this phase of not being able to be in full control of his actions he'll show aggression at school and attempt to run off when we're out in public. He did that quite a lot when he was three and four years old and it got to the point where I bought a harness and leashed my kid to keep him safe. He's now almost 11, close to 5' tall and weighs close to 100 lbs. Try leashing him now or stopping him when he breaks free of the death grip you have on his hand and runs off. It's nearly impossible when he gets it in his head to bolt and run off.
So far he's pretty much limited it to when we're arriving home after being out. Up until recently he could unlock the door in the backseat where he sits when the car was shut off. We had an incident with him running off and crossing our residential street and going into our neighbor's garage so my husband fixed it and he can only get out when the door is opened on the outside for him. He's not liking that at all and stares daggers at me when he tries to open it and can't each time that happens. I've explained to him that he can stare at me like that all he wants and be pissed off.. mama is trying to keep him safe and that's way more important.
The scariest incident happened on the Fourth of July where my crafty little booger of a son created a diversion by opening up our front door and allowing our two boy dogs to escape. Naturally I ran after them and was freaked out because I know that's the worst possible day for an animal to get loose. My husband went to corral our little girl dog and Nick ran out the front door. He ran across the street, completely oblivious to the oncoming car who was very aware of the kid who darted out in front of him - thank God. Once we got him inside both his daddy and I sat down and explained to him how he just cannot do that. My husband was far calmer than I was. I was a blubbering mess and couldn't stop shaking for hours. Total and full-blown panic attack. My baby was safe but what if that car had not seen him? I truly believe his guardian angel was looking out for her boy that night.
I'm at a loss as to what to do about this. Do I just keep being as diligent as possible and wait until this phase passes? Do I medicate him to try to keep his impulse control issues manageable? I posed this question on a couple different autism boards that I frequent and many, many parents are struggling with this very same issue. Some have resorted to meds for their kids and in a few cases it has helped.
This is, by far, the scariest and hardest part of special needs parenting for me. There's only so much one can do to protect someone from themselves. It's especially hard if that person is your child and you're on constant alert worrying that reason and logic won't play into their decisions. I am on that kid like white on rice and am always aware of what he's doing and where he is. Is that enough? I hope and pray it is.