In the Blink of an Eye: Autism and Wandering

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We had a little scare yesterday. I went to pick the Ninjas up from camp and found the littlest Ninja waiting outside the building by himself. He explained matter-of-factly that he was just really ready to leave, so he decided to go look for me. It didn’t even occur to him that he was doing something wrong until he saw how upset I was.

For anyone who has ever questioned why I am so hyper-vigilant with my son, this is why. Because incidents like this can happen far too easily.

I immediately brought him inside to the director of the camp and the three of us had a talk. The director was horrified, apologetic, embarrassed, and very concerned. They had let their guard down for just a second, and it happened in the blink of an eye.

It usually does. Children with Autism can be prone to wandering behavior, and that can put them at risk. Caregivers must put strict measures into place to help ensure a secure environment. Turn your back for just a moment and you could have a dangerous situation on your hands. We want to keep these precious children safe!

In the case of my young Ninja he can be impulsive, distractable, and not have a clear grasp of danger. He is also creative and wonderfully inquisitive and notices things the rest of us do not. Unfortunately that can mean that if he is busy noticing something interesting he does NOT notice if he wanders off or gets left behind. It has happened to me, and it was frightening.

I explained this about the Ninja when we first came to camp, and stated that a watchful eye was needed during transitions. I know from experience that dangerous situations can happen to even the most vigilant and nurturing of caregivers. People often assume that the Ninja functions on a certain level because he is able to be mainstreamed, and can forget that he still requires a certain level of care. He was once accidentally locked outside his school because he was behind a climbing wall and didn’t hear his teacher call the class inside at the end of recess. When he realized what happened he was left pounding on the door, crying and alone. Within a few minutes another teacher let him in, but it left him (and me) shaken.

While I am upset that these incidents occurred I am also grateful that my son escaped harm. I want to help prevent similar incidents from happening to ANY child. That is why I am talking about this. Not to shame or chastise anyone, but to help raise awareness.

When a parent tells you that a child in your care is prone to wandering, BELIEVE them.

I am still pleased with the camp and the leadership. They have been supportive and accepting of BOTH Ninjas. They’re also going to put more strict safety measures in place from now on. Still, when I stop and think about it I get chills. The adult watching the door looked away for just a second yesterday, and that’s all it took. My son slipped out in the blink of an eye.

It makes me want to sleep with one eye open from now on, just to be safe.

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Is It Summer Yet?

There is still over a month left in the school year for my children, but I am pretty sure I hit a wall this week. Somewhere between recent school projects, Standardized Testing review, and my complete and utter failure at appreciating my boys’ teachers during Teacher Appreciation week I hit critical mass. It was all I could do to drag myself out of bed this morning and pack lunches… AGAIN. And it happened earlier this year than in years past.

I was reminded of a picture from two years ago, so I dug it out.  This was the state of the Littlest Ninja’s backpack when there was two weeks left in the school year. That little safety pin had been bravely hanging on, holding the ripped pieces together, but finally just said, “Screw it. I give up.”

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I looked at the pitiful sight and I was all, “I know, Backpack. I KNOWWWW.”

Is it summer yet? I am ready for relaxed schedules and days spent at the pool.

I am also fully aware that it won’t be long until I am asking, “Is it time for them to go back to school yet?” But today, I am that backpack. Or maybe the safety pin, I dunno. But you get the analogy.

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The Top Five Autism-Related Posts from Seriously Not Boring

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Another Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Action month is drawing to a close, and I hope that everyone’s efforts made a difference. This world becomes a better place every time someone new reads about Autism and learns to be more accepting. To close out the month here are this page’s Top Five posts about Autism in the hopes that you might find them helpful. These are the topics that seem to have resonated the most with readers, even years later. I feel honored and overwhelmed that when we share our journey it has the potential to help others.

#5. Autism, Meltdowns, and the Unexpected Kindness of Strangers in a Supermarket. Many years ago, when the Ninjas were very small, we were new to the Autism world and spent a lot of time feeling confused and overwhelmed. A difficult incident happened in a grocery store, but the graciousness and compassion showed to us by the employees there helped us through it. I wrote this piece for the Parents Magazine special needs blog. NOTE: This is a change from the original article that was featured at #5. Because reasons.

#4. The Talk: How I explained my son’s Autism diagnosis to him.

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There is no shame in Autism. When my son was old enough I wanted to explain his unique brain to him in a positive way, because how you do it is incredibly important and can affect a child’s self-image for the rest of their life. I wrote: “… I had to be very careful with my words and how I presented Autism. There is still so much stigma in attached to special needs, or even to simply being different (not in my mind, but society seems to feel otherwise). I didn’t want him to see himself as flawed, or view his diagnosis as restrictive, limiting his expectations of what he could achieve in life. I did not want the truth to be damaging. I wanted it to be illuminative and empowering. I hoped that having knowledge of Autism would improve his understanding of how his brain works and help him be more patient with himself.” A version of this story also appeared on the website The MightyContinue reading

Inclusion In Action: How My Son’s Classmates Responded When They Learned About Autism

 

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After my son was first identified as Autistic* I constantly worried about how the world would treat him. Those worries escalated when he was at school interacting with classmates and under the care of others, but with the help of his teachers we found a way to help foster a positive, supportive community for him. It was accomplished by talking to his classmates about Autism, and the results have been more effective and encouraging than I ever hoped.

My son is outgoing, energetic, and has a knack for improv comedy. His big brother is his best friend and his favorite things are Minecraft, sea lions, and Lego. He is also Autistic with some social, sensory, attention and impulse control issues. As “Twice-Exceptional” it seems at times that he is caught in between the typical and special-needs world, so sometimes he struggles to find a sense of belonging and acceptance. As he grew older those struggles became greater, and we hoped to find a way to help.

Some of you may be wondering why I would want my son’s classmates to know about his Autism label. Wouldn’t that complicate things because he would seem MORE different? I believe honest dialogue about special-needs is crucial to acceptance, and that children can be surprisingly open-minded about diversity and uniqueness. If you tell them, “Different is cool,” they will believe you. The trick is to explain those differences in a matter-of-fact and positive way, before they can be affected by the prejudices of the world. (It also helps if you do it in a voice like Matt Smith’s Doctor when he said, “Bowties are COOL!” And yeah, I totally made this meme.)

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I once read these words, “If you’re the parent of a child with AS & worried about what will happen if other students find out, here’s a thoughtthey already know. They know they have a classmate who has different and difficult behaviors. But they don’t realize the reasons. And the reasons they imagine are much worse than the facts.” I felt that my son’s classmates were more likely to be kind if they understood more about him. As the article stated, “… children are never too young to learn that…we need to treat each other with patience, kindness and understanding.” I was also inspired by a presentation given by the Executive Director of our local Autism Society chapter, who had talked with her own son’s classmates when he was in school. She felt that it was important to share with classmates about strengths first, then weaknesses, and then involve the other children by stating ways that they could help.

Taking that into account, my son and I first shared with his classmates about Autism when he was in 1st grade. We did it again when he was in 2nd, both times in conjunction with his Star Student presentation. Any time I discuss Autism it is with his permission and his input, and he is proud to talk about his “special brain.” We wanted to show that Autism was just one of the many things that makes him interesting (if you want to read the script I used you can click here, The Star: Telling classmates about Autism). We made sure to point out that even though my son was a little bit different that was okay, because he also was just the same as the other students. Both times I contacted the teacher first to gain permission, and gave her a copy of what would be said so that she could be prepared to answer any questions the students may have later.  Continue reading

The School Conference That Made Me Cry

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I recently attended a conference at my 3rd grader’s school and it totally made me cry. This time, however, it was a GOOD cry (although also a borderline “ugly cry” too). All because my youngest son has incredible teachers, and he has some amazing, supportive classmates. But let me rewind…

Parents of children with special needs are used to crying in conferences and IEP meetings. We walk into the room bracing ourselves because we feel raw, vulnerable and are afraid of what we might hear. (We brace ourselves every time the phone rings during the school day, too!) In some school settings our children do not always get the support and services that they need. Resources are limited, teachers are exhausted, and classmates can be cruel. I feel blessed to say that has NOT been our experience at my son’s school. From the beginning Team Ninja has been full of exceptional, patient, caring teachers who have found creative ways to help my son THRIVE.  Continue reading