By Zack Peter
I had just left the office, on my way home after a long day. I was ready to relax, maybe watch a minute (or 60) of some trash TV. Lord knows I could’ve used the mental break. On my way out, I happened to check my phone for any news worthy of browsing (aside from the normal “Kim Kardashian Posts Bikini Pic on Instagram” -- which is not news, by the way).
I read the headline “Missing Autistic Boy’s Remains Found in NYC.” Remains? Oh no…, I thought. My heart instantly sank into my stomach. I had been following the Avonte Oquendo story since it broke last fall. Wandering is by far one of the scariest things a family with a child with autism has to worry about.
It was just a few months ago that I found out my brother had wandered out of my grandparents’ home and walked five blocks to my great-grandmother’s house, undetected. Alone. By himself. No adults; no supervision. At least 30 minutes had gone by without anyone knowing where Ethan was, before a phone call came in that he had showed up at my great-grandmother’s. Thank God he knew how to get there. And thank God he made it safely. My grandparent’s don’t live in a terribly unsafe neighbor hood, by by all means, it is not a neighborhood an eleven year old boy with autism, who’s not very verbal, should be walking alone in. Not to mention it was also during the period Ethan had been regressing, so verbally and socially -- I can’t even begin to imagine the possibilities.
My heart goes out to the Oquendo family. Knowing that something like that could very well happen to my own brother scared the living shit out me. I cannot even fathom the immense amount of pain his parents had and continue to endure. Wandering is such an important issue and I give my deepest condolences to the Oquendos.
I am so glad that Ethan has been doing much better lately, but it’s still an issue that scares me today. Ethan has no concept of “stranger danger” or what kidnapping is and just the thought of the sick people in this world makes me cringe.
I’ve decided that enough is honestly enough. I know for my family, I’m working very hard to getting Ethan treatment, in hopes for a full recovery one day. However, available treatment options and even information about wandering and safety are still foreign territory to most of Americans. The reality is, unless people are directly impacted, they don’t seem to give a shit. It’s time to cut that out.
Although I find it commendable for a large autism non-profit to be incredibly generous in offering a large reward for the safe return of a young boy, the reality is, this happens so much more often than a highly publicized news story. Families have to endure this fear on a daily basis and it’s time that more and more people start taking action.
I am proud to be a supporter of both Generation Rescue and the National Autism Association. GR has so many available resources on treatment and autism, and NAA has developed digital toolkits for caregivers and first-responders about wandering. As an individual, it seem like not much can be done at our level. However, by making this information more available through online shares and word-of-mouth organic spread can help make such a tremendous impact. So I ask you, please support these orgs and please share their info. It’s so incredibly important and makes such a greater difference than I’m sure you can understand. So please share them.
And let me know, what’s been your experience with wandering? Tweet me @JustPlainZack or reach me at justplainzack.com. Or, as always, simply leave a comment.