Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In the Blink of an Eye

Today we hold a virtual candlelight vigil to remember and respect the lives of autistic children who have died after an elopement.

In remembering these sweet angels I feel it necessary to share my gratitude for an instance that could have turned horribly wrong...adding another angel to the list of lost babies. 

When Ben was two years old he literally made my heart stop for the first time in my life and it’s never quite been the same since. Before he was ever diagnosed with Autism or we even had a concern with behavioral/emotional issues, we trusted he was just like our other children. That he had fear of the unknown and would stick close to home. I learned the hard way that he would forever be our child that we must watch like a hawk. One Sunday evening I was cooking dinner while my husband was working upstairs. Ben was in the living room completely in my line of vision and earshot, watching one of his favorite shows. Our front door was open with our screen door locked, allowing in the warm spring air. Amidst the sounds of cooking and pans clanging, I must have completely missed the sound of the door unlocking and unlatching. After an unknown amount of time…may have been 5 minutes, maybe 10, I called up to the gentleman that dinner was ready and to have the kids come downstairs…including Ben who I assumed had joined his siblings to play. He wasn’t upstairs. He wasn’t downstairs. He left. My heart was in my throat as I threw open the front door instantly yelling his name as I choked back the panic. I called my neighbor to see if he had meandered next door…she was one of his favorite people. No luck but she quickly met us outside where we feverishly began to assign search areas.

The neighborhood was impossible….a ray of homes only 10 feet apart lining both sides of the street capped at both ends with retention ponds. Jesus. I went to the dark place and fast. I ran…shoeless and with my phone down the street to the pond closest to our house. My husband jumped in the car and drove around the neighborhood asking kids if they had seen any sign of him, recruiting small search parties of older children along the way. As I sprinted down the sidewalk, the homes on either side began to resemble an Alfred Hitchcock movie…the street lengthened and my legs began to feel like stone, growing heavier the closer I got to the pond. Flashes of our family on the 5 o’clock news, police canvassing the neighborhood, all flooded my head and finally brought the burning tears to my eyes. How did I lose this baby?? How could I be so careless?

As I reached the pond I saw a large rubber ball floating along the edge…and in that moment a switch was flipped. I looked down at my phone and knew it was time to call the police as I headed toward the water. As I lifted the phone I heard a commotion. I looked back down toward my house and saw a cluster of children screaming undeterminable words, almost dancing in the middle of the street. As I focused between the scurry of neighborhood kids, I saw two chubby bare thighs and I knew. It was him. (God love him, he was in nothing but a thermal shirt, diaper and sandals. At least he put on his shoes.) I don’t know that my sadly out of shape legs could have carried me to him any faster.   I scooped him up as the kids in their excitement followed us all into our home. After thanking and hugging our helpers, the gentleman could see that I was on the verge of losing it and quickly sent them on their way…lest they see me “ugly” cry. Nobody wants that. I didn’t know whether to spank or squeeze him…or both. After I regained my composure I held him tight the rest of the night...and vowed from that point on we would provide an environment that would keep him safe and contained.   I can say that I've tried my best.  And we've had other scares since then.  Because he is fast.  He has no fear.  And I'm human.  We all let our guard down from time to time if only for a moment...and unfortunately that is all it takes.  One moment.  We can't all live in a constant state of emergency preparedness.  But there are tools and resources, such as the Big Red Safety Box, to help us in that effort. 

The Kennedy Krieger Institute reported in a 2011 study that up to 48% of all children with autism will engage in wandering behavior or "elopement," which is defined as the tendency to leav...e a non life threatening space and enter into a potentially dangerous one, and is a rate 4 times higher than their neurotypical siblings.

The Krieger Institute also reported that "35% of families with children who elope report their children are “never” or “rarely" able to communicate their name, address, or phone number by any means."

In 2012, the National Autism Association reported that "accidental drowning accounted for 91% total U.S. deaths reported in children with an ASD ages 14 and younger subsequent to wandering/elopement."

This vigil is being organized to spread awareness of the very real issue of wandering behavior in autistic children and the unspeakable tragedies that can, and have occurred as a result.

Please join us in respectful remembrance of the children who have died.

This the most recent list since 2011 but not entirely comprehensive:

Kaitlin Bacile
Au-Juna Banks-Taylor age 9
Ryan Barrett...
Christian Baucom age 6
Jason Baucom
Adam Benhamama
Owen Black age 7
Aiden Bower age 4
Ashley Brock
Noah Burke
Carolyne Burns
Dena Burns age 6
John Burton Jr. age 7
Colum Canning
Kaymania Catt age 5
Alex Christopher 6/3/2005
Zachary Clark
Jeremiah Conn age 6
Holden Cottingham 2013
Taariq Cross age 7
Christian Dejons
James Delorey
David DeSantiago age 11
Devonte Dye age 5
Tatiana Eiland-Clinton age 3
Devine Farrier
Justin Gore Jr.
Darryl Gosein
Anthony Guerra age 9
Tristian Guffey
Liam Hamilton age 7
Elizabeth Hathaway age 10
Savannah Hauser
Benjy Heil
Jack Hensley
Emily Hope
Drew Howell age 2
Tristin Jeras 7/26/2012
Aiden Johnson
Marquail Johnson age 8
Jackson Kastner age 4
Kesia Kearse
Nathan Kinderdine
Michael Kingsbury age 7
Adlai Kugblenu
Anthony Kuznia age 11
Bernard Latimore
Aiden Lawson age 3
Kieran le Couteur
Erik Lippmann
Alexie Loper age 4
Mikaela Lynch 5/15/2013
Charlie Manley age 16
Savannah Martin 2/20/2011
Donivan Martin age 16
Savannah Martin age 7
Jared McGuire
Mason Medlam
Logan Mitcheltree
Christopher Morrison age 5
Blake Murrell age 4
Alyvia Navarro age 3
Avonte Oquendo age 14
Dominic Overton
Ariana Pivacheck age 9
Evan Reed 2012
Hannah Ross age 7
Blake Ryan 4/19/2011 age 4
Christina Sankey age 29
Luke Selwyn
Nicholas Shaffer age 12
Kaleb Shavers age 6
Kadeem Shillingford age 15
Jonah Smith
Julian Stacey New Zealand
Aaron Steele
Travis Stratton 3/1/2014 age 4
Kaliya Sullivan
Sean Taglione 1/29/2012 age 12
Desmond Thomas
Kristina Vlassenko age 10
Christopher Wakeman age 23
Amarie Walker age 4
Skyler Wayne
Freddie Williams age 13
Davin Williams age 15
NNR age 5 Bradenton, FL
NNR age 11 Stafford, VA
NNR age 12 Houston, TX

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