Monday, August 2, 2010

Say "Here I Am!"

I've been having a hard time writing this entry because it's really emotional. All melodrama aside, I seriously think I have a touch of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But this may be my most important blog written and I hope you will remember it if G-d forbid the need arises.

LM ran away last week.

The boys were watching a show on Saturday morning. DH went to get a haircut, I was doing your usual weekend house stuff. I went downstairs to get the laundry, came back up and started to fold - glanced into the den and only saw Bear. Did a double take --- called him. LM? Went into his room, into mine ... LM? LM? Nothing. And then I just got that feeling. I can't really describe it ... almost like it's too quiet or calm and I just know he's not in the house. Our back door is double locked on the top but our side door he can open. So I run out the side door into the front yard. I don't see him. LM! LM! I'm starting to panic. A million things are going through my mind, but since he's not in plain sight out front I decided to go back into the house and look again. Now Bear has picked up on my panic. I'm yelling for LM and Bear is echoing me in his little voice ... lm! lm! ... I look in every room, in closets under beds. LM's not really a "hider" - he's never ever done this before. The reality hits me. He's really not in the house.

Now I race outside .... I see my elderly neighbor across the street in his front yard. I don't know him - I've lived here 6 years and know many of my neighbors very well, but I have never actually met this man. I run across the street (only at the last second remembering that Bear is running 2 steps behind me and pause to scoop him up) ... "Have you seen my little boy?" He politely says no but goes back to his garden. I run back to my house, go to my next door neighbor's house - we are very very close with them and I know they are not home - Maybe LM went to see if they were home? But we share a front lawn - he would be in plain sight.

And then I see that their back gate is open. And they have a pool. (This is where I'm stopping again because it's too hard to relive this moment.) So in slow motion, or maybe it's in warp speed - I don't even know... I'm in their backyard screaming LM's name. There's a gate around the pool and its still locked. There's a solar cover and it looks undisturbed, but still I know I have to look. I can honestly say it was the worst most sickening moment of my life as I lifted the cover and looked for my baby at the bottom of the pool. THANK YOU LORD, LM was not there.

It's been 10 minutes ... maybe 15. The elderly neighbor had walked down the street and asked our other neighbor if she'd seen LM. This neighbor knows us well, knows LM has autism. She's running down the street toward me, her teenagers are running the other way. We're all calling LM. I can't even breathe. She says we need to check my house again. She goes inside I go in the backyard. LM! LM! She's on the phone with 911 - I need to come inside - she needs to know what he's wearing. This can't be happening.

She asks if I'm sure he's not hiding. I tell her he never has ... and then I remember what we used to do back when he had very little language. Like most children with autism, one of our first indicators was that he didn't respond to his name. We made up a little game. I would say "LM! Say Here I AM!" and wave my arms wildly; and he would answer "Here AM" (or it sounded like it) and raise his hand - and we would make a huge deal over it and give lots of positive reinforcement. And so I shout "LM! SAY HERE I AM!" I say it again.

And we hear him. From in the backyard I hear "Here I am." He was in the backyard. I had looked. We have a 6 foot gate that is latched from the inside and is heavy. Somehow he managed to open it and close it and relatch it again. He was sitting on the side of the deck and looked like he was scared that he was in trouble. And then the hysterics started. I held him and sobbed and kissed him and sobbed. Bear held us both tightly and we all cried. I managed to thank my neighbors. This was the scene that DH came home to. By the Grace of God he didn't come home to an ambulance or police car.

I learned a lot of important lessons. Here are 2 of them.

1. I'm pretty certain LM heard panic in my voice and thought it was anger. He didn't want to answer when I called because he thought I was mad. Or possibly he was distracted by something and couldn't process his name being called. We'll be practicing the "SAY HERE I AM!" game a lot more. And we'll absolutely be including it in the La La Language and Social Circle curriculum. It's too important to overlook. Many young children don't know that they should answer to their name - how would they know to say "Yes?" or "What?" Please teach them! If they wander in the store or are hiding in the house - call their name and tell them how to respond... to say "HERE I AM" It's a little game now, but might really help if you ever need it.

2. I need to know ALL of my neighbors and they need to know us. I need them all to know what it means to have Autism or Aspergers - why LM might not react like a typical almost 6 year old.

I'll end with this -- LM is high functioning. I've heard so many stories of kids on the spectrum who have wandered, some with tragic endings. I didn't think it really pertained to us. Now I know that it does. ANY child can wander, stray or hide. I'm so very blessed that this story has a happy ending.

Stay safe.