Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Gazebo Down The Street

Our older son has been looking down the street again. A couple times, he has forcefully tried to walk or break free from us in order to run in that direction. It holds such an incredible draw for him, that house with the gazebo. When the thought of seeing it again crosses his mind, I can just tell that, as he sits in the silence of his day, he is plotting his plan to get there.

The house is on the same road as ours, a main road, and it sits upon a slight hill of wooded land. The gazebo is peacefully perched on the hill so as to overlook the creek below it. When we drive past it, our son looks longingly up at it, perhaps remembering the past times when he victoriously ran from us and stood inside it's round interior.

"Zeebo," he calls it now; however, when he was younger, he called it a carousel, perhaps his favorite things next to vacuums. That is the allure of it, after all. He wants to sit inside of it and dream.

Our son has escaped from our protective gaze and grasp a few times, and every time he has done so, he heads to that gazebo. Down the busy street, full of cars he doesn't really see or appreciate, to a home with people we don't know and he can't talk to, he walks or runs, sometimes with bare feet, to get to that gazebo.

One year, as our younger son and I were in the car driving from West Virginia, my home state, back to New York, my husband called.

"I can't find him," he said. His voice shook with panic. It was the first time I son has broken away from us and was no longer in our field of vision.

"How long has he been gone?" I asked frantically. He can't protect himself. He can't be alone in this world. Our son is not equipped!!

"I don't know. A few minutes, anyway. Maybe more," my husband said.

"Call your parents to help search for him. Give it maybe five more minutes and then call 911," I directed. Parents in our shoes will sometimes hesitate to bring in the police and create a trail of child endangerment . Fear of losing their child permanently to the state can trump the fear of finding a child who has bolted from his home.

Although we weren't to this point at that time, today we embrace our first responders. Our home is registered as having a child with special needs, and when they respond to a call regarding our family, they will know--and they have known--what we are dealing with.

My in-laws found our son that day, at the house with the gazebo. They put him in their car and took him home, and a police car, summoned by the owners of the gazebo, arrived shortly thereafter.

"He has autism, right?" was the first thing the police officer said to my husband when they greeted each other at the door. My husband was relieved. They were understanding and supportive.

A couple days later, when our sons were in school, I walked down the street to the house with the gazebo. Holding a paultry offering of a box of chocolates, I wanted to thank the couple who lived there, and to talk with them about our son.

I met one of the owners, a lovely woman, eager to tell me her experience with my child. I'm sure she was eager to tell many people that story, and I supposed that this was only natural. I probably would have done the same thing had I been in her shoes. And, I'm not so sure that I minded people knowing at this point. If our son was going to continue to outstep us, we were going to need to let the neighborhood know what we were dealing with so that they would know how to react to him.

In the minutes that my husband was unable to find our son that day, I learned that he made it to the Holy Grail--the gazebo! However, he also attempted to walk into the home of its owners, who were inside and confused. Trying all the doors but finding them locked, our son then walked around in the driveway until he saw my in-laws arrive. The owners walked out of their home around the same time, having first called the police.

Seeing his grandparents and not wanting caught, our son ran to the street, oblivious of the cars rushing past. One of the homeowners grabbed him and pulled him out of harm's way. My mother-in-law was understandably crying.

This woman was kind. And, she was confused. She said she looked at our son and could tell that "he wasn't right." (cringe) But she didn't know how to handle him.
I understood completely, also ignoring the voice inside of me that was screaming, "HE IS A CHILD! ALL CHILDREN DESERVE AND RESPOND TO LOVE AND NURTURING. THIS IS MY BABY--MY FIRST BORN!!!"

I put together a sheet for her with our son's name, my name, phone numbers and also some personal qualities about him. I explained autism, what offends him, what he responds to, and I left that day feeling as though I calmed her fears and had made a positive connection.

If she only knew how many times since that visit our son asks to go to her house and how many times he looks longingly in her direction. I'm afraid to even open that door again. Yes, I toy with the idea of contacting her, asking if she would mind if we ever take walks with our son to her gazebo. Yet, like many children with autism, what can start as a good idea can be taken to a whole other level of obsession. He could want the gazebo at 3am. He could become physical in the battle for his desire.

The "what ifs" range from troublesome to problematic.

And, I sit frozen by fear of the unknown. Watching him as he looks longingly down the street. Thinking about the next time he will get to visit the house with the gazebo.


Keeping your child with autism safe in the event that they break away from you is something that my husband and I had to learn the hard way. With a few simple, proactive steps, you can be sure that you have safeguarded your child in the event of an emergency.

Iron on labels for clothes, tags for shoes and a wide array of wrist bands are available and customizable by order on the internet. Name, address, diagnosis, emergency numbers or tips such as "I understand you but can't talk" can all be placed on the child so that those who find him have a better understanding of how to handle him.

We have also used a variety of tracking devices.

Many parents are private regarding their child's diagnosis. If escaping from the home becomes a problem, weighing that need with the potential danger your child faces with his behavior will help parents to decide whether to alert those in the neighborhood. Fact sheets are an easy way to spread the word.

I encourage parents like me to explore the options available, and if I can help in any way, please let me know.

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