I know, I know. It’s been a while. If it wasn’t for the gentle reminder from a friend; I’d probably never have written another blog in my life, because well, honestly, I think maybe only one or two friends even read these things, and I feel as if I am just writing for myself. Anyhow, on the off chance that someone other than my close friends are reading this, I will attempt to write one blog a month… god willing. Cuz you know, life tends to get in the way. So here are a few things I’ve learned along the way in regards to keeping my little monster safe. But first, let me start off with a brief story.
It was approximately six years ago, and I had just arrived home from an afternoon class in grad school and I was exhausted, but I was so glad to be home and spend some time with my kids. I walk in the door, and it’s dead quiet. Which should have been my first warning something is very wrong; when I typically arrived home, Tim would be in the living room playing some racing video game on his PSP2/3 and Tristan (my older son, who was in charge of Timmy for a few hours) would be in his room playing Call of Duty or some other violent game that I often disapproved of. Anyhow, as I mentioned it was quiet, so I first called for Tim. No answer. I go to the room I share with Tim, thinking, maybe he’s taking a nap. He’s not there. Next, I check the bathroom, not there. I go to the backyard and now I’m getting nervous. Tim’s not there either. Then I run and burst into Tristan’s room, and there's Tristan, dead asleep in his bed. I wake him up violently, demanding to know where his little brother is. In his drowsy state, Tristan said that he just saw him a few minutes ago. As you can imagine, I wasn’t very convinced. I’m really anxious now, and I am running around all the rooms of our tiny house yelling Tim’s name. Nothing. I then ran out of the house, and I see some kids playing down the street, and I asked them if they had seen Tim anywhere. They said they hadn’t. I ran back to the house, and I am in full panic now and screaming at Tristan asking how long has it been since he’s seen, Tim. He doesn’t remember. I’m on the phone with 911, speaking with the operator. I start running down the street hoping that Tim is walking down the same path we take on our nightly walks. I don’t see him anywhere. We lived very close to the train tracks and a very busy intersection in Redwood City and to make matters worse. The area is under heavy construction, and it’s the middle of the evening commute, and the trains are passing by every ten minutes or so. I am in near hysterics on the phone with the 911 operator. I am living out my worst nightmare. One of my sons is missing. Tim has been missing for at least 30-45 minutes based on how long it’s been since I arrived home and I am about to lose my damn mind. Although Tim is 13 years old and verbal, his communication skills are very limited, and he has a big problem when it comes to safety awareness. The police are on their way to our house, and Tristan is biking around our neighborhood looking for Tim. I’m standing on the corner, bawling my eyes out, waiting for the police and there, two block away, much to my relief, I see Tim walking back home. He’s barefooted, with bright green marker scribbled down one side of his face, with one of his hands down his pants, and holding a Slurpee in the other. And to me, it was a beautiful sight. I ran to him, wrapped him in my arms, broke down, and thanked God that he was safe. When I let Tim go, he proudly displayed his drink, and said, “Mommy, Slurpee!” Which meant, Tim had crossed the train tracks while it was under construction, crossed El Camino Real Road, then walked to 7-11, stolen a coke Slurpee and walked all the way back home barefooted and during rush hour traffic. Once I got off the phone with the 911 operator and informed Tristan that Tim was safe, I went to the 7-11 store and tried to pay for the drink Tim had bought on credit. When I spoke with the cashier at the store, he informed me that a female customer had paid for Tim’s Slurpee, but he refused to agree to call the police if he ever saw Tim there again by himself, despite my explanation of Tim’s disability. But in his defense, I’m sure he thought I was a mad woman, based on my disheveled appearance of red puffy eyes, mascara-stained tear-drops, swollen nose, and only half of the hair remaining in my hair bun. Trust me I was a sight to behold.
That event was a catalyst for many changes in my home and my immediate family’s life. First, Tristan was never left in charge of Tim by himself for the next four years, even though looking back now, it was an honest mistake. The second thing is my mom gave up her career in Portland Oregon and moved down to the Bay Area to help me care for Tim and my two older boys while I finished graduate school. Third, my sister and brother-in-law decided to invest in a home in Bay Area and have my mom move in, so she could have a place to stay and offer her privacy. I have a fantastic family that pulls together to help and protect the most vulnerable members of our family. I’m sure you are saying well that’s nice, but that doesn’t tell me anything I can do for my kid, tell me something I can use. Well, I’m getting there. The most important thing I invested in was a home alarm, not to keep potential thieves out - which is a bonus - but to alert anyone in the house when a main door or window is opened. So every time the front or back door opens, there’s a loud beep letting me know someone either walked in or out of the house. It amounts to approximately thirty bucks a month, which to me, is a small price to pay for peace of mind, but also lowers the homeowner's insurance rate. Now if that is a luxury you can’t afford, trust me, I know what it’s like to count your nickels and dimes at the end of the month, I would install a door chime or shopkeepers bell.
I know this is going to sound obvious, but smoke detectors are a must. One time I was folding clothes in my room and watching Doctor Who and the next thing I know the smoke detectors are going off. Why? Tim decided to try and make a quesadilla by himself. Aww, what a big boy, right? Don’t ask me how, but he set a small dish towel on fire and flames started running up the side wall by the time I ran in and started throwing baking soda everywhere and covered the towel with a pan lid. We had pizza that night for dinner, in case you wanted to know.
Another thing we all have on our car windows are autism safety stickers. I have one on each of the driver's and passenger's side windows and two on the rear window, so god forbid, if our van ever ends up on its side, there's a visible sticker somewhere - sorry I always assume the worst, you'll get to know that about me. I have had a few first responders tell me that they appreciate it when someone has something alerting them to a person’s condition in advance. That way they don’t assume the limited speech or behaviors are due to some sort of traumatic brain injury, and the individual with autism is not subjected to unnecessary medical procedures.
Now the last two suggestions are a little more difficult for some people to follow through with and I can completely understand why, because you have to be open with acquaintances or strangers. Let your neighbors know about your child’s disability, and inform them that if they ever see your kiddo walking around by themselves, something might be wrong - depending on the level of severity of your child’s autism. For example, all our neighbors know about Tim, geez, even our mailman knows Tim. So they all know that if they see my little man walking around and they don’t see my mom or me with him, something’s up because our house alarm would let us know someone has left the residence. The last thing I have done with Tim is, he is registered with the Redwood City Police Department. They have his picture on file and a brief statement of his disability and emergency contact information. The photo has to be updated every so often so try to give them a new one when school pictures come around. Those are the big things that I can think of right now, but I’m sure there are other things I've forgotten about. However, if you have any questions or suggestions, please don't hesitate to ask or share.