When she was 6 or 7 or a length too long to bend into a grocery cart I stood in the parking lot, defeated. I was a single mom then and Ashlyn didn’t just wander, she ran. Or she didn’t just run she pulled her fingers along every item at eye level, collecting some, knocking some down, wailing as I bargained with her to put something back. It was all too much, I pictured our cupboards emptying as my mind filled. We drove home without a single grocery.
One of my closest friends has two boys with autism. I have watched her unload them from her vehicle, clinging to one while holding her leg across her van door to keep the other from escaping. If she doesn’t move quickly they will be off to whatever catches their twinkling eyes, undoubtedly in different directions.
On Sunday, her beautiful five year old boy followed his curious eyes right out of their home and past the garage door. She and her husband were both home but it only takes a second. That second when one of you knows the other is playing with your son and the other knows that you are feeding him lunch and he is in neither place. By the time the police arrived she was frantic. A neighbor had offered to look for him and her husband was searching as well. Officers spotted her son nearing a busy road but they did not approach him, for fear of his reaction. He weighs all of forty pounds, was barefoot and balancing his prized beanie babies but a police officer was scared off by the word autism.
My friend’s neighbor got to her son first, she comforted him until she could pass him safely to his mom. Today they are ordering alarms for their doors and combing through reviews for safety locks and introducing their boys to every person in the neighborhood while they try to shake off the could have been‘s.
This little boy walked/ran through a neighborhood full of adults, headed for something that caught his eye or a place he couldn’t quite communicate and no one stopped him. No one went out of their way to pause for a barefoot little guy running past with beanie babies in hand. The police didn’t help, only a kind-hearted neighbor came to their aide.
Maybe we do need more autism awareness. Maybe we need better training and more communication and plans to make sure that everyone, EVERY.ONE. understands how autism can affect a family. It may not be your child but it is one in every 50 children so it IS your neighbor’s child, your daughter’s schoolmate, the boy on your son’s soccer team. It takes a village. An understanding, empathetic village who doesn’t mind taking a step out of their comfort zone to make sure a little boy doesn’t take so many steps past his own.
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