This time of year, I’ve usually seen more than a handful of autism-related wandering stories. I’ve only seen a few. But even one story is too many. I’ve shared a few stories myself over the years. I’ve also shared how our local police have been immediately available to us in those moments of uncertainty. Most of the time, the citizen reaches out to the police asking for help. I was recently reminded of the time when they reached out to me.
Several years ago, I was able to get to the library alone. Looking forward to the quiet and to writing a new story, I was interrupted before I could turn my laptop on. My cell phone rang. Easily I could have ignored the call, but I got a feeling that I needed to answer it.
“Hello?” I quietly answered.
“This is Lt. Thomas with the police department. I need to speak to Cathy Jameson.”
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Visions of the worst disasters imaginable flashed through my mind. I quietly darted outside. Barely audible, I replied, “This is Cathy…”
“Hey, Cathy. I need some help.”
The officer was chipper, so I took that as a good sign.
He continued, “I need an update on Ronan. We have his file here with his picture. You gave that to us a few years ago. We want to make sure we have accurate information now just in case we’re called to respond to an emergency.”
My heart stopped racing. A smile spread across my face.
“Oh! Well, of course! I can update that stuff for you today. Let me do that when I get back home.”
The officer went on, “We know he’s got some special issues, so whatever we can do to help, just let us know.”
Within seconds of answering the phone I went from thinking worse-case scenario to wanting to cry tears of happiness and thanksgiving. The police know we have a very delicate situation. They want to help. They know Ronan has some very great needs, and they recognize that it can take extra time and effort to keep a child like him safe. I welcomed their support.
We’ve had to call the local police before. Without any hesitation, they leaped into action. That happened when Ronan went missing on a cold, dark night several years ago. I never want to wish that experience on anyone. That night, with the help of our neighbors, and with the immediate response from the police and sheriff’s department deputies, we had quite the crew fanned out looking for Ronan. He was found safe a few houses down the street from our home.
The day after that incident, I met with the police to give them a brief history of Ronan, including his picture and a list of some of his medical conditions. I will sometimes limit what I tell other people when it comes to Ronan’s health care and his behavioral needs, but I shared as much as I could beyond Ronan’s height, weight and hair color this time. If Ronan wanders farther than he was able to that scary night, they need to know how to carefully handle him. And they need to know that Ronan will not respond to them, not because he’s ignoring them or being belligerent, but because he’s unable to.
Ronan has a lot more to deal with than most kids do. But he has a lot of support from others to get through things, including support from the police who patrol our neighborhood. They are aware that Ronan is non-verbal, that he suffers from seizures and that he has specific medical conditions that require certain specialists and particular treatment. Now that Ronan is considered a Person of Interest - which means that in emergency situations, if responders are called, they already have a heads up on Ronan’s conditions - our community helpers are immediately prepared to assist him.
I haven’t had to call the police to help us since the night of the 911 call on that cold, dark night, but I am glad to see that they are keeping Ronan’s file updated. I'm thankfully that they reached out to me and shared that are still ready to jump in at a moment's notice to help us. As soon as I got home from the library the day that the Lieutenant called, I updated Ronan's file. With that updated info, Lt. Thomas and the other police officers can continue to be aware that my son is not just any old child living in the neighborhood. Ronan’s a pretty awesome kid. He just happens to need some extra support.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.