It hasn’t happened to us in a very long time. But the potential for my son to wanderer is something we will never forget. It happens. And, for some, it can be deadly. To the three families whose children wandered recently – and who died, I am so sorry.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let Your perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed
rest in peace.
From a memory from 2014:
I had to place a service call this morning. The technician hadn’t been to the house in a while, so he forgot that I have to unlock several locks before he could come inside.
“Hey. Thanks for coming by,” I said as he walked in.
Before continuing the conversation, I closed the door and made sure the alarm was active. The technician waited for me in the front hallway as I peeked into the living room around the corner. The big kids were at school, so it was just Ronan home with me. I knew I’d have to accompany the technician away from where Ronan was playing to another part of the house. He was happily occupied, so off the technician and I went.
We had to go out the back door to look at a potential problem area. I said, “Hold on,” and stepped in front of him before he could reach for the doorknob. I held my breath, unlocked the lock, and turned off the alarm. "Okay. It's opened," I said and moved aside.
A few minutes later, we were back inside. I could hear Ronan in the same spot that I’d left him—playing Wii and listening to his music.
The technician and I sat at the dining room table and went over some information and some paperwork. With the paperwork signed, he was ready to go. I thanked him for his help and said, “Let me walk you to the door.” The technician started down the hallway ahead of me. As he reached for the doorknob to let himself out, I said, “Hold on a sec...”
He stopped mid-step and mid-reach. Then he said, “Oh, that’s right. The wanderer.”
It could be a book title. A song title. Or the title of an epic movie. But it was not any of those. It was a term made in reference to my son.
Ronan has slipped away undetected before. That’s why we have to be hyper vigilant. That’s why we have alarms on our doors. That’s why Ronan wears a Project Lifesaver device. That’s why we have bright yellow ‘Go Bags’ at the ready by the front door. That’s why I always keep tabs on Ronan. That’s why someone is always within earshot of him.
It’s because Ronan is not only prone to wander; it’s because he has wandered.
Ronan hasn’t done that in quite a bit thankfully. I’d like to think that he hasn’t because he’s growing out of that behavior. Because we’re doing a better job of keeping him safe and secure. Because he prefers to stay indoors when the rest of us are inside.
Whatever the reason, I will never let go of the fact that my son has wandered. That he is capable of it. That he’s proven a few times that he will leave. That’s happened when a door hasn’t been closed right away. That's happened when I turn my head for just a minute. That's when I let my guard down. That's when I think maybe he won’t go out by himself today.
I can’t and won’t take any chances, so it’s check every door, set alarms where we have them, and inform the siblings where their brother is. Every day. Every time the door opens. Every time the door closes. All the time. All day long if I must. I will ensure that my boy is safe.
The second I don’t?
I don’t even want to think about that.
But I do think of that awful thought, and of an awful night two years prior, and pray we never experience anything like it ever again.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.
For more information about autism and wandering, please visit these sites. Please also consider supporting the National Autism Association's efforts to educate families on how to reduce and prevent wandering incidents.