April 7th was supposed to include a fun evening out for me and my family. Ronan loves chips and salsa and enjoys Chili’s as it is one of only a few places he can go out to eat. My whole family was excited to go out to Chili’s because 10% of the sale of my family of seven’s check was going to be donated to the National Autism Association, specifically to their Big Red Box program.
We’ve received our own Big Red Box from the NAA after Ronan wandered. The first time he wandered was several years ago now, but that day still haunts my memory. It was late January 2008. Despite the sunshine, the temperature was below freezing. Ronan had slipped out of the house undetected and managed to cross the street and walked to our neighbor’s backyard. Beyond the back yard was a lake. As my husband I realized Ronan had left the house, we immediately took off to find him. My husband went running down the street while I went running up it.
My husband heard Ronan first. Bolting through the neighbor’s yard, he ran into the lake toward Ronan. Ronan, not knowing how to swim at the time, was almost fully submerged. His clothing was beginning to weigh him down as he tried to grip the cold and slippery piling of the neighbor’s dock. With teeth chattering and his hair soaking wet, we were lucky to find Ronan when we did.
Lifting him out right before Ronan went under, my husband and I were aghast at how quickly we could have lost our son.
Walking back to our house felt like an eternity. We needed to move quickly, though, to get Ronan out of his cold and wet clothing.
49% of those with autism wander. The leading cause of death of those who wander is drowning. Ronan came very close to doing just that. With Ronan being non-verbal and unable to cry out for help, I shudder thinking about that day. He was making noises while reaching for the piling. Had he been completely silent I know we would not have found him. We estimate it would be only a few minutes before Ronan would have lost his grip had we not heard him.
After warming Ronan up and locking every entrance, and double checking that the doors were indeed secure, I fell crumpled into a corner of my kitchen. I cried. I wailed. I lost hope.
I needed help and quickly. The people we needed at that moment in Ronan’s life were the members of the National Autism Association. They quickly set out to find resources in our community. But our community was not willing to work with us. Instead of letting that be the final answer, the NAA went to bat for us again. Their efforts and the items in the Big Red Box gave us time. They also gave us hope—hope that we needed so we could continue to advocate for Ronan’s safety.
Ronan is still prone to wander, but we have a checklist and equipment in place to assist us at a moment’s notice. I know that if we ever need further support from the National Autism Association that they will answer our call and jump in as needed.
I won’t be heading out to Chili’s tonight as I had planned. I’m saddened that Chili’s changed their minds and are missing out on supporting NAA and their efforts. It won’t stop me from letting the NAA know how much we appreciate them though. What we would have spent tonight on dinner will go directly to the NAA. 100% of the cost of our meal, plus all the love we can muster, from my family to yours, NAA, here is a big, big thank you from us.
For more information on wandering, please go to AWAARE website. http://nationalautismassociation.org/resources/awaare-wandering/
For more helpful tips from Mamacita, please see her post https://thinkingmomsrevolution.com/autism-and-wandering-keeping-our-kids-safe/