I received a phone call last night from my friend Peter, and let me say, this phone call reminded me (not that I needed reminding!!) of why Peter is one of my best friends!

He shared with me something that happened to him over the weekend. In his travels he had come across a young teenager (let’s call him ‘A’) who was alone looking like he needed some assistance, as physically he had a slight disability.  After seeing a number of people walking by being abrupt with this young man and visually ‘A’ getting upset himself, Peter decided to try to see if he could offer any assistance.  Once he started to chat with ‘A’, he was able to see that there were more challenges… ‘A’… as was confirmed later, had severe autism.

In Peter’s attempt to try to engage ‘A’ in conversation, he shared with me that he thought of my son and the things that would interest him… and there started a conversation, about one of the most frequently talked about things in our house… Pokemon!  I won’t share all the details about the journey these two had together, but there are a couple of things that I would like to mention.

Now, last night when Peter shared this story, I admit, there were a few tears.  These tears mainly came from relief, imagining how thankful this mother would have been when she got a phone call from Peter to let her know that he was with her son and he was alright. You see, ‘A’ was able to produce a piece of paper that he had in his pocket with his phone number and address on it… just in case at some point he needed assistance.  These tears also came from knowing how many children with autism have drowned recently, and knowing that ‘A’ will not be one of those children. While Peter shared this story with me, he will likely never fully understand all the thoughts that went through my head (nor would he likely want to!!), but by far, the hardest one for me was the concern that I felt, thinking that if my son was ever in that kind of situation, that I’d be lucky enough to have someone like Peter to come along and be able to help him the way that he helped ‘A’… ensuring that he was safe.  One can sure hope!

But then after we hung up the phone, I started to think.  And then it hit me… like a brick wall!  Yes, it was amazing what Peter did, but the reality was that ‘A’ willfully gave his personal information to what one would say, would be a complete ‘stranger’.  I’ve had these conversations – and many of them – with my son… you know the one’s… all about ‘Stranger Danger’!  Sadly, it’s not his strong suit, so we keep talking… teaching… hoping!  Seriously, in ‘A’s’ case, he could not have been with an individual that would be more protective and caring than Peter… but what if it wasn’t Peter?  What if it was someone that saw an opportunity and took it?!   Thinking about this, it scared the daylights out of me!  Children on the spectrum are very often so trusting of others… wanting to be accepted… to have friends… many will do things that aren’t safe or acceptable in order to gain that acceptance.  And there are too many out there that take advantage of this whenever they can.

The National Autism Association shares that 49% of all children on the spectrum exhibit elopement behaviours.  When our children wander or ‘bolt’ they are at extreme risk of being struck by a vehicle, falling from a height, dehydration, hypothermia, abduction, victimization and assault.  So the reality here is that a great number of us are at some point going to be dealing with our children wandering off – are you prepared in case something like this does happen?

It upsets me terribly to know that passerby’s were abusive to this young man!  It upsets me that our children are so often victims of bullying, abuse and violence… seemingly many times at the enjoyment of others!  Again, and I can’t say this enough, we are looking at 1 in 88 children diagnosed with autism – 1 in 50 children in US schools are on the spectrum…. at what point are they going to be accepted and treated with the respect that they deserve?!?

I am thankful that this mother and her son were reunited because of the caring actions of another.   So Peter, if you read this… not only am I proud to call you a friend, but I think on behalf of many autism parents out there, I have to say thank you for helping!  Thank you for taking the time to try!  Thank you for taking the time, when so many wouldn’t, and making such a difference for that family that day. To think where this could have gone… I shudder at the thought.

There really are not enough safety nets in place to protect our kids.  Sure, we have GPS systems and Project Lifesaver, but are they available to all that could use them?  At this moment in time… sadly they are not.  The costs involved with GPS systems many times put them out of reach for many families that are already struggling due to the high financial costs of therapy and treatment for their child(ren).  For those that aren’t familiar with Project Lifesaver, here is how it works:

Citizens enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small personal transmitter around the wrist or ankle that emits an individualized tracking signal. If an enrolled client goes missing, the caregiver notifies their local Project Lifesaver agency, and a trained emergency team responds to the wanderer’s area. Most who wander are found within a few miles from home, and search times have been reduced from hours and days to minutes. Recovery times for PLI clients average 30 minutes — 95% less time than standard operations.

Ideally, in my opinion, Project Lifesaver should be a service that all emergency services should be working with. Agencies interested in having Project Lifesaver training can read more here.

Be sure to visit AWAARE.org as they have some great resources that are available to parents, guardians, teachers or whoever that may be involved in the care of a child that wanders.  You can never be too prepared!