“Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.”
Some children on the Autism spectrum are flight risks. Ours is one of them.
I still remember the first time I discovered that our Autism puzzle included the flight risk piece. That was several years ago now, but it still makes me sick to think about it.
On a bright, sunny and crisp Saturday morning , following one of our son’s night waking episodes, I thought the least I could do for my wife was get the kids out of the house and let her sleep peacefully. Our oldest had a soccer game at a large multi-field outdoor complex, so I figured I could do it all – watch the game starring the oldest, manage the effects of Autism in his little brother, and claim to be a super-husband. (Yea, right).
I knew that keeping the Little Man in a relatively small area in an extremely large, open outdoor soccer complex, with hundreds of kids, would not be easy. He almost never stays still, acts impulsively, and has a non-stop motor. So I formulated a simple plan: 1) Hold him for as long as I could; 2) give him snacks; and 3) give him electronics. I only needed to kill an hour, so I figured that would suffice. I was confident that the day would be a resounding success – perhaps a little too confident. I thought I accounted for everything. And, maybe I did. That is, everything except my own personal failings.
The holding and the snacks got us though about half the game. Still, I tried holding out the electronics as long as I could. Electronics are like a drug to him, so we really try to limit exposure as much as we can. In any event, I was so certain that once I gave him the electronics he would be so engaged in that activity that he would be easy to corral. Still, I waited. Every few minutes he would wonder behind me, down a slight grade into a water retention area. He loves splashing in puddles. I would promptly chase him down and lead him back to the sidelines. A few minutes of that and I was ready: electronics time.
I showed him the little portable V-Tech game and sat him on a blanket right in front of me. He sat calmly and quietly and started to play. As a fail safe, I decided to stand in such a way that he was under me, sitting right between my legs. That way, I thought that if I looked up to watch the game, I could feel him move beneath me. I thought wrong.
I remember that day like it was yesterday. Sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. The joyful sounds of children playing and parents cheering. I remember my oldest: running down the side line, chasing the pack of would-be soccer stars. Smiling. I remember thinking about how I could help him be a better player. I remember thinking about when I played soccer and trying to compare my oldest to me. I remember thinking a lot of things. But that is the problem. I was thinking. Worse, I was daydreaming. I do not know how long I was out of it. But, one thing was for certain- it was too long.
When I looked down to see the Little Man, he was gone.
The panic did not set in immediately. When I did not see him, I figured he just went back to the little gully behind me, back to the puddle. He did not. It was then the panic struck.
I looked around in a frenzy. All over there were little boys and girls running up and down soccer fields. There were waves of parents and grand parents clapping and cheering loudly. There was so much noise and motion. I didn’t see him. He does not respond to his name, so yelling for him would have been useless. I was almost paralyzed with fear. I quickly ran back toward the parking area and away from the fields of play. I figured that he would either be walking toward the parking area, or that I would have a better vantage point to survey all the fields unobstructed by nearby spectators. I slowly scanned every field back and forth. No sign of him. The adrenaline in me had now reached the level where I am sure I could have lifted a car. My heart was beating so loud I could fell it and hear it. My hands were shaking. I started running back to ask for the assistance of the parents on our sideline.
As I was running, I scanned the fields again back and forth. There was a break in the line of parents standing on the opposing team’s sideline. That is where I saw him. Two soccer fields over with a ball kicking it into the net. Not a care in the world.
I would say that all is well that ends well. But, I can not put a positive spin on this story. To this day, I cannot forgive myself – my carelessness. I would say to err is human. But as parent of child with special needs, particularly one who is a flight risk, you can not err. The one day you do not lock the gate, or the door, or the one day you get lost in thought or get distracted, could lead to terrible, horrible consequences.
Fortunately, I learned that lesson the hard way without the consequences.