The beating on the front door jolted me out of my sleep. Heart racing, I glanced at the clock, 1am. Dressed in the first thing we could find, we fumbled our way to the front door to find a Police Officer waiting for us.
"Can we help you Officer?" My husband asked, half conscious.
"Do you have a son?" asked the Officer.
"Why was he asking about our son?" My heart began to pick up pace as I turned around to glance around the living room. Everything looked in order, doors locked, gates up. Just before returning my gaze to the Officer, something caught my eye, a cracked door. Bolting my way through the living room and hurdling over the baby gate like an Olympic track star I threw open the door to my sons room.
"David!! David!! Where is he?! He's gone! Phoenix is gone!" I screamed as I yanked back the blankets from his bed.
Struggling to catch my breath and control my thoughts from wandering to the worst possible scenario, the tears began to stream down my face, I threw open the door to the bathroom, "Phoenix?!?!" my daughters room, "Phoenix?!?!" I screamed once more, hoping to hear his little voice say something, anything. I stumbled back to the living room, my legs feeling heavier with each step, I forced the words out of my mouth yet again "He's gone" My husband not yet having grasped what was going on...
"Ma'am can you tell me what your son looks like?"
The room began to spin as I tried to answer. "He has Autism. My son has Autism, we just moved here. He's only 3 and a 1/2. There's a creek near by. He doesn't know anyone, Red hair. Red hair, blue eyes. Here" as I ripped a photo from my purse and shoved it into the Officers chest. I could hear the rain beating off his uniform as he looked at the photo.
"Sounds about right" he said, as he turned around and made a gesture to his Police Car.
Before I could push him out of the way to get a clear look, I heard a familiar voice, "Mommy!" Running up from behind the Officer was Phoenix, pj's soaked and barefoot.
"I played on the slide! My pj's are wet, I need new pj's. I need new pj's now, mom."
I yanked him into the house and squeezed him tighter than I had ever squeezed him in his 3 and 1/2 years of life. I closed my eyes and breathed in his smell of sweat and rain.
"How did you know, how did you know to come here?" I asked the two Officers, as I wiped the tears from my face.
"Your house was the only door on the street with the door open. When we got him in the car, we knew something wasn't right. My nephew has Autism. Sorry Ma'am, I'm Officer Smith." as he reached out and extended his hand.
"Smith?" I asked as I stared blankly at his hand.
"Yes. Officer Joseph Smith."
My heart sank to what felt like my feet and it was then that I knew my son was being watched over that night.
* * *
Autism related wandering affects 90% of Autism families. At some point, 90% of Autism families will experience the reality of their child wandering off. A lack of parental supervision? NO. In our case we had dead bolts locked, child locks on the door knobs and baby gates up. My Son made it past all of these things and did so while everyone in the house was sleeping. For a week my son had been asking me to go to the park that was 4 houses down from our house. I kept telling him that we would go later, when we were done un packing.
Fortunately for us, a women was driving by the park at 1 in the morning. She barely caught a glimpse of my son in the dark playing on the slide, in the rain. She immediately pulled over, grabbed my son and pulled him into her mini van and called the Police. There aren't many days that I have had that I haven't thought of this incident that took place over a year ago. The horrible thoughts that immediately flood your mind, the million "What if?" questions that overcome you. There are reporters, sad excuses of reporters, out there that would have you believe that these incidences you hear of are due to a lack of good parenting. I share this with you to tell you that it's not case. These children will get an idea in their mind and they HAVE to do it, it becomes a sudden urge for them. Some might say "All children have that desire." The difference here is that YOUR children will grow out of it, ours wont. Now we have deadbolts on the tops of all of our doors and alarms on all of the doors and windows that are on all day.
Instead of casting premature judgements, ask yourself what you can do to help. With the skyrocketing Autism rates, everyone knows someone with Autism. Keep your eyes peeled for un attended children, be aware of your pools. If you have a neighbor with a child that has Autism, ask them if there is anything you should be aware of. And for the love of all that is holy! Start showing these families some support.