The Autism Website
Information on Autism Related Wandering
Being the parent of a wanderer, especially one who’s fearless and fast, can be downright terrifying. And knowing whom you can trust to keep your child safe isn’t always easy.
I took my boys to a fast food restaurant one day with my mother and a friend of hers. We ate on their outside playground and chatted while the kids played. While his brother went to play with the other kids, C.J. spent most of his time climbing everything in sight, and I spent most of mine redirecting him.
At one point, I needed to take my older son to the bathroom. My mother and her friend (between them they’d raised more than 15 children) offered to watch C.J. until we got back. If I had it to do over, I would have taken him with me too. I just could never have imagined what would happen next.
On our way back from the bathroom we were met by my mother’s friend who asked if C.J. had found me. For a split second, I thought she was joking. When I realized she wasn’t, I started the frantic search for my little boy.
I scanned the inside of the restaurant but he wasn’t there, then ran out to the playground to see if he was hiding in a corner somewhere. He wasn’t.
While I stood there looking in every direction, frozen and unsure where to search next, another parent pointed out toward the street. Horror filled my heart.
Looking out to the street, I saw that all five lanes of traffic had stopped dead. There, in the middle of it all was a man holding my baby.
I jumped the fence and ran as fast as I could. Ignoring the silent accusation in his eyes, I choked out an enormously inadequate “Thank you!” before snatching my child from his arms and racing to collect my other one. Even if I’d been of a mind to explain, I doubt it would have made a difference. We stayed only long enough for me to be certain C.J. wasn’t hurt. Then we got the hell out of there.
My mother and her friend said it hadn’t occurred to them to stop him from going to look for me. They just watched as my non-verbal autistic four-year-old walked off. In short, they did far less for him than the total stranger who pulled him out of the street.
Fury with my mother (and myself, for trusting her) made it impossible for me to speak. She simply shrugged and said, “I’m sorry, honey, I thought he’d find you.” My livid reply got stuck in my throat.
She never did understand why I was so upset. After all, he wasn’t hurt.
Though this happened many years ago, it still serves as a lesson to me not to take for granted that others, even family, will look out for my kids just because they promised they would.
I don’t share this story to shame anyone, although it’s still mortifying for me. I want you to see how easily this can happen, especially when other adults in your loved one’s life don’t fully understand the dangers of wandering.
Fortunately, my story had a happy ending. I found my baby and he was unhurt. I don’t know if he remembers this incident, but it’s one I’ll never forget.