Friday, July 18, 2008


Quoting police sergeant Dave Laude, from a July 16 Cap Times feature article on Project Lifesaver, an electronic monitoring program for people with autism & Alzheimer's:

It's amazing what these families have to live with. One mother came into my office to sign her son up. The first thing she did was walk around shutting all the doors so he couldn't get out. Can you imagine having to live like that every day?

Consider it imagined. Consider it lived. That's exactly what I do when I take Joy somewhere like a doctor's office, where I'm going to have to let go of her hand.

Joy isn't quite the little Houdini that some of the other kids in the article are. She can only open easy doorknobs, and gives up pretty quickly. We recently installed a lovely backyard fence, which put an immediate damper on her former dashes for the street, and she hasn't attempted either climbing or digging.

Still, in spite of all the watching and hand-holding and planning and door-closing, Joy does escape sometimes. As the article put it,

No matter how vigilant parents are, children with autism get away. In fact, escape stories are family lore.

Our classic escape story happened last fall, on a playdate at a mall play-place with fun tunnels and climbing toys, and a 3-ft high perimeter wall lined with benches. Joy had never climbed the wall, so I thought I was safe to stand with the other mother at the playplace entrance, and keep an eye out that Joy didn't come running out that way. All of a sudden, I realized that I didn't see Joy anywhere. My first thought was that perhaps she'd had a seizure in a tunnel, or out of my line of sight. So we spent a minute or two eliminating that possibility. Then we looked to the great big mall and all the people in it -- and fortunately Joy was trotting back toward the play-place, shepherded by a friendly mom. "She did the right thing and wouldn't talk to a stranger," the guardian angel said, "but I figured she had come from here."

It's true, Joy won't talk to a stranger, since she barely talks! However, she might give that stranger a hug and kiss, and trot away happily with them... we were incredibly lucky that time.

Last night we had another related incident. Joy takes swimming lessons at an indoor pool, and we stay a while after to free-swim. She'd been sitting happily on the pool steps for several minutes, so I took my eyes off her for just a second to watch her sister do something. In a flash, Joy was out of the pool and running around the perimeter at full tilt, in all its slippery danger, and I couldn't dash after her myself without taking the same risk. She slipped and fell once, and I almost caught up, but she popped right back up and kept going, right past two lifeguards before I could call them to intervene. Finally I was able to yell ahead to another mom at poolside to intercept her. Dangerous and embarrassingly conspicuous -- why can't you just holler at your kid to STOP, huh?

We're going to look into signing Joy up for Project Lifesaver, if not immediately, then certainly in time for kindergarten.


Anonymous said...

Joy also managed to escape out the front door during her 3rd birthday party. In the chaos that is a child's birthday party (with 20-some kids and parents stuffed into our not-large home...), she slipped out the front door. Luckily one of the other parents saw her run past the front window and chased after her.

This happened the same weekend Benji Heil disappeared (he's mentioned in the story JoyMama linked to). I can't imagine what his parents have gone through, and I don't want to imagine what could have happened if Joy wasn't spotted as she dashed away...

Anonymous said...

Having chased Joy once or twice, you guys might also want to consider taking up sprinting. She's fast!

JoyMama said...

JoyDad - Ah yes. That was the other classic incident. Shivers up the spine!

runatthemouth - I think we've "taken up" wind-sprints by force of circumstance! Joy is indeed fast. I'd like to see her train to run competitively at some point in the future, as long as I don't have to keep up!

Maddy said...

Yes, I do the same, shut every door and window, remove all keys it's just an automatic routine that I don't even think about any more.
BEst wishes

JoyMama said...

Maddy - It's clear we're not alone! Thanks for your note. You're the first commenter to find this blog without being directly e-mailed about it! :-)