Angel was a quiet baby. Looking back he was too quiet. This changed as he got older. His daycare progress reports use to refer to him as “Happy and Active.” Now he has a 1:1 paraprofessional to help him focus at school. Sometimes he has to wear a weighted vest for therapy sessions. Medication has been suggested. I am not hearing it at this point. He is only 4.
When we are out in public, Angel often attempts (with occasional success) to bolt away from me. This is okay if we are walking through a playground or park. Not okay if we are walking along the bustling streets of New York City.
So how do we teach a child with autism to be more aware of danger? How do we teach them to be mindful of cars in the street or a barking dog in the park? I do not have the answers but I am working on them as each day goes by.
Before Angel was born, I used to be one of those people who always had an opinion about parents who carried their almost four- feet tall children around in a stroller. I remember shaking my head and saying to myself, “That child is too big for that stroller.”
I felt the same way about the harness or “leash” that some parents use. You know the one with the monkey backpack that you strap on to the kid’s back and hold on to its tail. I remember my sister even bought one for Angel and I refused to accept it. Instead of showing gratitude for her thoughtfulness I said, “I would never put that leash on my child.”
My attitude changed really fast when Angel tried to bolt away from me while we waited for the train on the subway platform one afternoon. In a split second, I pulled him to the side and gripped onto his hand. The casual grip from a few minutes ago had turned into a vise grip. I am not sure where my agility and speed came from but when you have to keep your child safe you dig way down and you find it. Throughout the incident, Angel was as happy as ever and oblivious to what could have happened. The very next day, I was in Babies ‘R Us buying a harness.
I can also recall another bolting incident. During my rush to get to work one morning, I forgot Angel’s harness at home. This happened on the day I pick him up from school to take him to his after-school speech therapy session. While walking to catch the bus home, I held onto Angel with my right hand and pulled my rolling backpack with my left hand. When we arrived in the middle of the block, I stopped and let his hand go to get something from my bag. In what seemed like seconds, he bolted into the middle of the street.
My heart stopped. (Well, it felt like it stopped.) My blood pressure skyrocketed and my heart was thumping in my chest. I was terrified. The whole time Angel is looking back at me smiling and oblivious to the danger around him. I dropped my bag and screamed, “ANGEL!” Then, I dashed after him and pulled him back onto the sidewalk. I thanked God that the traffic worked in our favor. A passerby felt the need to tell me to “be more careful.” Gee thanks. As if I didn’t already know that.
Back on the sidewalk, Angel asked, “Okay?” in the voice he uses when he needs reassurance. With my heart still pounding, I tried to explain to him why he should not run into the street. I am not sure if he understood what I was saying but I sure hope he did. I truly believe that Angel has an angel watching over him.
These days I can’t forget that harness and if we are going to a crowded place like the zoo, I carry his stroller. I have heard of other parents using a wagon in large locations and others have gotten an autism service dog to accompany their child in public. We do what we must do to keep our children safe.
I know that I am way more compassionate toward other parents (those with and without children with special needs). We all have to be. When we see a parent carrying a “tall or big” child in a stroller, we should consider that the child may have special needs. We should consider that the child may bolt off in public. We should consider that the child may be extremely active and a stroller or harness is all the parent has to keep that child safe. In the mean time, we as parents must carry on as our skin grows thicker with every passing comment and stare.
Please visit this link to get additional strategies on how you can deal with your child’s bolting: Safety First for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
What methods do you use to keep your child safe in public? Are you the person who has questioned another parent for using a particular method to control their child? Why did you feel compelled to do so?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.