Your child must have fun. I look back and remember a time when I learned a very special lesson about having fun, and every individual basic right to self-determination. Autism does not mean you are locked into some kind of dreary life for you and your family. As with anything else, it’s what you make of it. Therapy can be fun, water sports, and snowmobiles, for example. The kids love speed and crashing into things. Jimmy loves the fair and bumper cars. Okay, you have out grown some of those things, well, too bad. You have to re-live them for your kid. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a big fan of rides that leave you in the air, like Ferris wheel rides and other rides that take you very high in the sky, and then drop you. Some of you may know what I’m talking about. I go to amusement parks and go on the rides for Jimmy. I will go on a roller coaster if it’s not too big, as well as most of the rides at Disneyland. I have on a few occasions taken my then 14 year old son to Six Flags. On one particular occasion at one of our visits to Six Flags, my wife and I were taking turns waiting in line because Jimmy could not keep still and, unlike Disneyland, there was not a policy in which you did not have to stand in line if you had a child with special needs. Jimmy was having a great time. However, every time we got off a ride, he kept saying he wanted to go on the big swing. I looked up at what he called it; “Big Swing” ride and said; “Oh no, that’s not a swing son, you don’t want to go on that.” That’s a bungee jump. I distracted him and led him to the little train roller coaster, and we went on that, and then to the roller coaster you stand up in, the one they spin you around until you feel sick. He enjoyed every ride, but every time we got off a ride, he said; “Daddy I want to swing”. We were right next to the big swing ride. It was hard to keep turning him away from it. Jimmy wanted to go on the ride. I tried to redirect him away from the ride. He would not listen. He wanted to go on the ride. I looked at it again. Huge poles with rubber band slings that raised the rider up into the sky, dropping them down back down only to bounce up, down, up, down and swing left to right, over and over until they stopped. No. I couldn’t do it. I could not possibly let him. I could not allow him to go on this ride. How could I let him out of my arms, be strapped into that ride and be sent up into the sky, to bounce and swing down and fall to his death. Even worse, they allowed you to do it in doubles, which meant I could go with him to make sure he was safe. We could bungee jump together, which only added to the pressure. Honestly, I would risk my life for my son on any given day, but my idea of fun was not being tied up, lifted up into the sky 300 feet, dropped, and bounced up and down, and swung, over and over till I came to a standstill. I thought maybe if I checked with the ride attendant and explained about my son’s condition, he would tell us no. I was certain that if he knew my son had a diagnosis of autism, he would tell me my son could not get on the ride, and we would be able to just go on to another ride. I approached the attendant and I explained my son has a diagnosis of autism, and stated, in efforts to gain the cooperation of the attendant, that my son probably should not ride on this ride. To my dismay the attendant, refusing to play along with me, said it didn’t matter if my son had autism or indigestion, he could go on the ride. Of course, my son heard that and was really happy now! I moved away from my son with the attendant and stated that I didn’t want to cause any trouble but I wanted him to understand my son may make a mistake up there. He could be killed; he may not have the capacity to do the right thing at the right time. The attendant politely argued with me stating again that the ride was safe explaining further that they have trained staff who could go along. I continued to argue and convince him that my son was strong. He may squirm, or come loose. The attendant continued to insist politely, but very loudly, that it didn’t matter if my son had autism. He could go on the ride. I couldn’t believe it. For a man who never loses control, I was getting very upset. There was a crowd starting to form as we discussed the safety of bungee jumping for my son, oh yes we were starting to hold up the line. I warned the attendant I would file a lawsuit if anything happened to my son. I threatened to sue him, his company, and his family if anything happened. He laughed and again insisted my son could go on the ride, and asked me to bring him up. The crowd waited to see what would happen. Out of desperation I told the attendant I would just tell my son the ride is broken. And just as I got close to my son and began to tell him, the attendant yelled out. “It’s not broken anyone can ride!” For the first time in a long time I thought about karate, but I had to ask myself, “How can I go across this country and talk about self-determination for those with autism and other disabilities, and not allow the same considerations for my own son, despite what I think. Despite my fears, I have to let him go on this ride because it’s the right thing to do.” The pressure was incredible. I didn’t want him to go on the ride, yet I knew he could despite his autism. I called him over to speak with him, even though there was a very big crowd, and they were selling videotapes of the ride and had taped part of the discussion. I was right by Jimmy’s side as they strapped him in, and had a staffer strapped in alongside of him. We tried to go up but Jimmy kept wiggling from excitement, not fear. The operator set them back down and they re-strapped him in. I watched in fear and in pain, as my wife, was digging her nails in my arm, pulling and saying; “Are you crazy! You can’t let him do this!” I watched, not being able to speak, frozen. When Jimmy was pulled back to about two hundred feet, they gave the signal and shushed the crowd. It was so quiet, and then my heart stopped as they pulled the cord, and Jimmy dropped straight down, and then he bounced, and he bounced, and then started to swing. The crowd let out a roar, cheered and hugged. I cried. Yes a grown man like me, cried like a baby. And I yelled out very loud. “That’s my son bungee jumping! Yeah! That’s my son!” Jimmy had a smile across his face from ear to ear. The operator was so happy, he laughed and said; “First you were going to sue me, and now you hug me!” All the while Jimmy was laughing and smiling, thrilled to have gone on the ride. I felt my heart begin to settle down, and was amazed at the crowd, who had been watching and listening and had become very much a part of what was happening. I looked again at the face of my son; he had the biggest smile and was still laughing as they un-strapped him from the ride. I realized, in that moment, just how important self-determination is. No one loves their children more then we as parents do. As Jimmy’s dad, the thought that we experienced something great because I let go of my fears is something I have reflected on often since that day. As a parent of a special needs child, and as adults, there are times when we need to say no to protect our kids, but there are times when we can say yes, and let them experience as many things as they show an interest and desire in, because, just as we all do, they have a right to self-determination. Whenever I start to forget, all I have to do is pull out the bungee jumping videotape, listen to the recorded discussion, and relive the moment all over again.
Oh why is this so high on the list? Well, truth is, you’re going to need it. If you don’t have one, you better go out and buy one! Listen, grieving is a natural thing that we know occurs when sad things happen. Whether we acknowledge it or not, experts have discussed the grieving process parents go through when realizing their child is not “normal.” The amount of time we grieve varies and is different for each person and situation. The incidents that occur over time will break you if you don’t have, or develop, a sense of stepping outside of the situation, and seeing the humor of the moment. For example, one time I was in Sacramento to receive an award. They had it at a big hotel which had an Olympic size swimming pool, and of course lots of guests. I had my son Jimmy with me, and he was six years old. I was dressed in my suit and looking my best to receive the award. It was a very nice hotel. The banquet area had big doors and windows, and you could see the pool area. Jimmy had a large plastic bottle of Gatorade, which served as a clutch item, as well as his drink of choice. Jimmy’s nanny was quick but Jimmy was faster. I was talking to someone when out of the corner of my eye I saw Jimmy running full speed, with the nanny in pursuit as Jimmy went out of the doors. I was already racing after him, past the nanny, and Jimmy was headed straight for the pool. We had started swimming lessons, but he could not swim, and sensing that a pool this big might have a deep end of 10 feet, I was running in panic mode as fast as I could, in a suit at that. I started to yell at Jimmy. “Don’t you get in that water! Stop it right now!”…Jimmy turned around but kept running toward the pool laughing all the way. I threw off my suit jacket as I was running, knowing I would have to jump into 10 feet of water to save his life. Jimmy jumped into the water, and not far behind, I prepared to jump in after him. And then, just as I got close to the edge, I saw him go under water, feet first, at full speed. Just as I got to the edge, I saw him stand up in the water; he was in the shallow end. I stopped and was teetering on the edge of the pool for what seemed like a long time, but my force was too great and I fell into the pool. I quickly stood up, all along trying to keep my eye on Jimmy. As I looked at Jimmy, he was drenched, standing in the pool, fully dressed, with his wind breaker on and still holding on to his Gatorade, laughing as hard as I have ever seen him. In that instant I could not help myself, I broke out in total hysterics. I could not stop laughing as I was shouting to Jimmy, “That’s not funny!” He came to me and gave me a hug, still laughing. My shoes, my wallet, my suit and I, were all soaking wet. The people at the pool broke out in laughter after we did. We went back to the banquet room where all the guests had seen what happened, and I spoke of how everyday with Jimmy is more exciting than anything one could ever imagine, and that for the rest of my life, I will have stories to tell. My point this time is that there will be twists and turns, and many surprises as well as some disappointments, and how you accept them will be a lot easier if you have sense of humor and teach yourself, as the kids say, to “just roll with it!”
We did what we do best. I took him for a ride in the car. Jimmy has often had different clutch items, items that he would just kind of hold on to, and he would keep those items close to him for a long time. It could be a number of things. On occasions he would use certain words, and he would use them all the time for a long period of time. I used to drive down a particular street. And every time I would drive down that street in a certain area of town Jimmy would say, “Daddy blue, I want blue please, Daddy blue please.” I would just check the car to see what I had that was blue that he was talking about. Well, pretty soon after a couple of times it became apparent that it was something maybe in the neighborhood. Because two months later, every time we got near this area of town, he’d start talking about blue. I want blue please. And he was very insistent. After three months and this continued, it was really starting to bug me to try to figure out what it was that he was communicating that was sticking for him for three months. I looked at the stores, I looked at the street. I looked at the clouds. I looked for everything blue that might have been in the car. But he kept asking for the blue. After four and a half, five months, I came across the area and just as clear, and just as precise, and just as intently, he asked for “Daddy I want blue.” I pulled over and I stopped the car. And I said Jimmy, “I just don’t know what blue you are looking for. So, I said show me.” This is a term I often used if I’m not clear about what he wanted, or what he was trying to communicate to me, or what he was thinking about. I would say, “Show me” and he would lead me to where it was. So we got out of the car, and he started walking, and we started walking up this busy street. And we crossed three or four streets. I realized at that point right then, that I had no idea where we were walking, we could have been driving, it could save some time, but we had crossed three intersections, and we were still walking. I had no sense of where we were, and there were a couple of times when I was going to say, “You know what, this isn’t going to work, this isn’t going to work. We’ve walked, we’ve left the car, we’ve walked way out here, we have gone almost a mile, and I don’t know what you want.” But something told me just to be patient, he knew what direction he wanted to go in and he was walking intently, the light we crossed, the street we kept going. As I’m thinking, you know, I’m tired, my feet are tired, we’ve walked for twenty minutes, I just don’t know where it is we are going and no sense of what it is, and I’m trying to understand, but I just don’t think that I’m not even sure that he knows where he’s going. At the time we did that, all of a sudden, we got to this one street. And he made a right turn, which freaked me out, because we are now walking down the street we had been walking, we had then taken a right turn. I was just totally shocked, we were then making a right turn and we were headed up over a freeway overpass, but that little tiny voice in my mind says he is going somewhere. He knows where it is he wants to go. He walked up this street for a half a block, and then turned into a shopping center that had four or five stores. And the main store was a Big 5 sporting goods store. Now, we hadn’t been to that store in six months. But he walked to the store, he walked to the door and walked through the door, into the store and I was just again astonished. All this time I was thinking, what in the world, he went four aisles to the left and one aisle down the right, and came right to the little blue weight that was two and a half pounds, and then said “Daddy, I want blue.” The little blue weight. And I was just in awe, and suddenly I thought, yes I remember, we were here five or six months ago, and we were looking at different things and I though, yes, you saw the light blue weight and that’s what you wanted, and that’s what you’ve been telling me for the past 6 months. Every time we passed near this intersection, “Daddy I want blue.” I’ll buy you two of them. I would have bought the whole box, but they didn’t have any more. And I was just so happy. I was just thrilled, and he’s grinning from ear to ear, and we now are walking out of there and I’m saying; “Is there anything you want? Anything else you need?” But he was so happy, and the patience and the time to actually find it was worth it. I was so pleased with him and just pleased with myself because I just had the patience to stick with it, stick with it because he lead me to something he had been desiring for four to five months. It was just pure pleasure. And we hugged, and he laughed, and we hugged and he laughed, and people looked at us like we were crazy. And we didn’t care. Here’s the secret, people said I can’t believe you stopped your car, and got out and started walking, just going anywhere where he might lead you. You know, remember he was a six year old with a diagnosis of autism, he could be going anywhere, he must have had a lot of patience. I pat myself on the back for maybe having enough patience to wait and follow him to go and to do what he wanted, but the key is kids with autism have an enormous amount of patience. It allows them to go four to five, six months with something on their mind that they haven’t forgotten. They can’t forget, they can’t communicate, and still be able to maintain all the other good spirits, until a point comes when they can express or communicate it. To get to the point: the patience has to do with the patience of our children, which should encourage us to have enough patience that could help them. Just as the kids know, whatever we want, it can never come fast enough, whatever comes our way, whatever is achieved for your child will never come fast enough. Therefore, have patience, both kinds of patience.
This may sound a little silly, but this is what you should know. School districts have a few “chosen” parents they plant in the community who tell the special ed director or superintendent what’s going on in their district. You can identify them because they will talk about how wonderful the districts are, and that they have no problems and the district always knows what’s best. I suggest personnel. And then additionally, every district has a few parents who are aware of this goes. They generally have a child who has been in the district for a while, 4th or 5th grade. They will not hesitate to tell you what services are helpful and who is good and who is not. You may have to go to a local CAC or ask another parent in class about a few parents who know the local therapist. You will not find them as president, or on any school board advisory team. The last thing a district wants is a HPP around other parents…Oh, if you haven’t read the glossary of terms HPP stands for High Profile Parent. Those are the parents who have attorneys, and advocates. Sometimes HPP’s have just read the rules and are not ashamed of, or are upset enough to feel good about speaking up for their child, and more often than not, other children are in need also. Oh, and one more thing, they are usually the parents of the children with appropriate services such as Speech and Language, OT, VT, swimming therapy, ABA and behavioral services. You will come against the parents who have no problems, but the best ones to try to get in touch with are the ones who know what is really going on. Quite simply, the hope is that you can find this person in your local community, even more than your attorney; this person will make life so much easier for you and your child.
As sure as you are reading this, there will be times when you will be angry, frustrated, disenchanted, revengeful, furious and opposing those that have control of services and information that could help your child or your family member. Yet, they refuse to do so. Agencies and administrators who have sworn and taken an oath to assist will not do so. On some occasions, despite their actions and your anger, you must listen to your heart to do the right thing and stay close to the values that you own because in the end, those character strengths will assist your family member and your ultimate goal of helping your child. The audacity of some of the people who are in position to assist and fail to do so, because of selfishness, greed, or the arrogance of power! Let me give you an example. Because I was involved in the community of helping other parents obtain a FAPE program for their child at no charge, I didn’t realize how one day that would make me popular with the school district superintendent. He recognized that the grass roots appreciation spilled over from not only the parents that I directly assisted, but also to those who also had questions, and were comfortable to know that someone who was knowledgeable about special education law would attend IEP’s at at no charge, just to help out another family. The superintendent became chummy and for some reason, thought that he could call upon me for an unethical favor. Because of the problems that parents were having I, filed 7 due process hearings against the same school district for seven different children on the same day. One of those children was my son. Now, this was unusual, so much so that it had never happened in the state of California before. After weeks of much discussion, the superintendent asked me to come to his office without the attorneys because he wanted to discuss the cases. When I arrived, he was very friendly, and, as we began to speak, he quickly got to the point of the meeting. He stated, “I want to give your son Jimmy all the services you’re requesting, and, in addition, I will give two other students all of the services you’re requesting. You pick the students, but I would like you to dismiss the cases of the other four students. “My eyes were clear and focused. It took me about ten seconds to respond. And the reason it took so long was because I was shocked at the audacity of this school superintendent to suggest what he just did. I said “I would find it most difficult to wake up and look in the mirror every day and know that I sold children’s educational future down the drain in order to benefit my son. I also said “But I do have a remedy for our situation. Why don’t we do an independent assessment on all of the children, and whatever it is that they qualify for, you provide, and whatever they don’t, they don’t receive.” It was clear I angered the superintendent to the point that he was unable to control himself. He yelled; “You see, Peters, that’s the problem, you want to bankrupt this school district. I offered you a great deal to solve all your son’s problems and you throw it back in my face. I said “it is not my intention to bankrupt anybody, but it would be improper and immoral for me to turn my back on those families and children who trust me.” The superintendent abruptly ended the meeting, we went on to court and all of the cases were settled. And although the children got most of their services, they all received appropriate ones to enable them to have an appropriate educational program for that year. The superintendent of course, has hated me ever since that day, but the thing is, if you maintain the values that are in your heart, despite the types of people that will anger you, and stay focused and steadfast on what is appropriate for your child, ultimately, you will succeed.
The diagnosis of autism is, among other things, a communication disorder. Communication is the essence of how we learn, express our wants, desires, and our feelings. If you are blind, your other senses become more developed and more sensitive. The sense of touch enables you to take in what you cannot see by Braille, or touching. If you are deaf (sign language), experts say that your sight and touch are magnified to help you communicate. Having a diagnosis of autism with a number of sensory areas that are not functioning, or having some type other limitations, causes the brain and the body to seek any alternative methods of communicating available. One of those alternative methods is what we call nonverbal communications and physical prompts. As drastic as it may seem or appear at times, it is one of the basic examples of how the human brain and body work. To overcome deficits or problems that they as an individual may be having, even though on its face, it appears to be inappropriate, sometimes the environment creates such hardships on the individual that they seek what could be stated as desperate measures to overcome extreme discomfort that they are experiencing. Regardless, as parents of children and adults with autism, we must understand about the extreme measures that may have to be taken in order for those with a diagnosis of autism to communicate. Two quick examples. Jimmy was in first grade with a district that had a known disposition of not wanting him in the general education classroom and seeking any opportunity for good cause to have him removed. On this particular day, Jimmy was in the classroom on the computer with a speech and language pathologist who had a tendency to poke Jimmy on his shoulder in order to prompt him to respond to specific tasks. Jimmy would often take what she considered too much time in selecting his answer or response that was prompted by the computer. After about forty minutes of poking Jimmy, Jimmy’s aide stated, “He’s getting upset because you are poking him. I don’t think you should poke him to prompt him.” The aide was a mother of a child with autism. She had worked with Jimmy for over 6 months as his individual aide in the general education classroom. The speech and language pathologist had only worked with Jimmy for two days but responded to the aide, “I’ve been doing this for a long time, it’s the best way to keep him focused.” The speech and language pathologist continued to poke Jimmy on the right shoulder with her pointer and index fingers. After about twenty minutes the speech and language pathologist yelled out, “He bit my finger! He bit my finger!” The aide was in the classroom, but was ordered away from Jimmy by the speech and language pathologist, immediately came to Jimmy and the speech and language pathologist. Jimmy was agitated and the speech and language pathologist had a red mark on her index finger, but the skin wasn’t broken. The speech and language pathologist insisted that he should be suspended immediately. I was called and told that Jimmy bit the speech and language person, and he was being suspended. When I arrived at the school, Jimmy was playing with all the kids on the playground, as it was recess. There was no added security, and he was not separated from the typical children. When I went to the office, the principal informed me Jimmy was being suspended because he bit the teacher. I asked to speak to the aide. Although reluctant, they knew it was well within my rights to do so. I asked the aide to please tell me what happened, because Jimmy had never bit anyone before. The aide came to tears and said, “The speech and language pathologist was poking Jimmy on his shoulder, I told her she should stop, and she sent me away, then I heard her scream that Jimmy bit her on the same finger that she was poking him with.” I turned to the principal and I said, “I’m going to give you ten minutes to talk to your superintendent to determine if you want to completely forget about suspending my son, and I won’t press charges against your speech and language pathologist.” After hearing the response of the aide, and talking to their superintendent, their attorneys advised that the district drop the suspension. The main point is, Jimmy obviously did not have the words to get the speech and language pathologist to stop poking him on the shoulder, but after an hour of continuous poking, he came up with what a six and a half year old perceived to be a remedy. Bite the finger that’s causing the pain. Jimmy could have bitten down hard enough to break the skin, but he did not.
If you thought it was going to be hard to buy a sense of humor, wait until you try to buy a little patience…. Surfing the internet won’t help…..it’s almost impossible to find, but it is a must have. Let me explain.
First, you have to remember to be patient when the unexpected happens. I walked into my house about 12:30 p.m. thinking I was going to grab lunch at home. I checked my messages and there was a call from a lady saying she was the school’s attorney and that there was going to be a hearing at superior court at 1:00 p.m. that day regarding my son, and I needed to appear. The message was left at 11:00 a.m. I found a sitter for Jimmy, who was to get out of school soon, and went straight to the courthouse. I was not dressed for court in a suit and tie, but there was no time to change so I went in my jeans and a dress shirt.
When I arrived outside the courtroom there was a lady who seemed to be a little over 4 feet tall, with a very sour look on her face, and lots of grey hair. She was dressed up like she was going to church. She had four very conservative, big guys with her, all dressed up in dark suits. Not one of them had a smile, or a happy face. She came over to me with what appeared to be her bodyguards, and said “ Mr. Peters, I’m Bridget Flannigan,
Autism does not have a cure, but there are treatments therapies and programs that can address the areas of delayed development. The longer it takes you to determine your child’s deficits, the longer it takes to start intervention and treatments. When Jimmy was born I was in the delivery room all dressed, ready to cut the umbilical cord and watch my son come into this world. There was a popping sound, and what was a very typical delivery turned into panic on the faces of the OBGYN team. Jimmy, however, seemed to recover rather quickly with an Apgar score of 9. During routine visits he was chubby and received all of his shots in accordance to normal schedules. However, at eight months I felt something was not right I spoke with the pediatrician but he said the baby was fine, not to worry. He was the head of pediatrics at a large hospital, and I had known him a long time. At 14 months I was very concerned but my pediatrician told me there was still nothing wrong, that he was a very strong healthy baby boy, a little chubby, but was told that was good. “You are suggesting that something is wrong with the brain and I don’t think so. You’re very healthy, and so is your boy. Jimmy had a number of ear infections, and so I took him to one of the best ENT specialists in the state. She said, “I will put tubes in his ear to reduce the ear infections, but I want to do tests on his hearing as well as additional assessments on him. It was then that I also began to do additional assessments, and by two and a half Jimmy was diagnosed with Autism. I wasted valuable time because I trusted a well-respected pediatrician. The facts are clear. Get assessments and services early, and don’t let anyone or anything stop you.
If ever there was a mention of what the toughest area for most parents who have children with autism, it would be how to determine if their sons or daughters will have children, or even more basic, what and how does one discuss and address about sex. I have spoken to an expert in Canada about this subject, as well as some of the top professors in this country about how to address this very sensitive subject. I received advice from one of the top scholars in our country who is an expert on Autism in adults… and young adults age 17 and 18 when sexual desires are their primary thought. Oh have you forgotten? Jimmy is 6 ft tall 165 lbs and as strong as a bull. He runs 6 to 8 miles a day and is as fit as you can ask. He has always been interested in sex and has no physical disability with regards to sexual ability. But although he had the desires as most men as described by the Kinsey study, he does not have the social skills to communicate his desires to a woman. I spoke to his pediatrician and said, “He’s 17. How do we teach him?” She said, “Don’t worry about it. It is instinctive you don’t have to teach him. It’s human nature.” Others stated that if you don’t do something, then nothing will happen. Other experts stated that they may seek sexual pleasure all their life if they don’t have opportunities for interpersonal relationships. I am a law abiding citizen but one of the top scholars of the country said, “Do whatever you have to do, but do something or you will regret it.” Another professional said, He’s 18 and you haven’t done anything yet?” What I did was remember when I was 18 and what I wanted for myself. Every family has to address this in their own manner. However you should be able to recall how you felt and understand that inside your young adult could feel the same way. Jimmy, through facilitation of parent and staff, found a girlfriend and has been sexually active and the doctor was right. It did not take him long to figure things out, but if it had, then that would be ok too. The standard is set by each and every parent and their religious beliefs. But doing for him what you wanted for yourself makes us supporters of self-determination.
There is a recent study that announces what many of us have known for years – That facts indicate kids and young adults with a diagnosis of autism attempt to elope. They say roughly half of children with ASD between the ages of 4 and 10 attempt to elope, and that this rate is nearly four times higher than for the children’s unaffected siblings. Between ages 7 and 10, almost 30% of children with ASD are still engaging in elopement behavior, a rate eight times higher than for their unaffected siblings. They go on to say that 35% of families with children who elope report their children are “never” or “rarely” able to communicate their name, address, or phone number. When all is said and done, I believe the actual rate of elopement will be closer to 70%. The fact that it is not higher than that is because the children and young adults who have a diagnosis of autism are generally with someone 24 hours a day, and those adults usually thwart the eloping desire. I believe the reasons vary as to why they elope, things from general curiosity, getting away from tasks or schoolwork, or going to someplace they remember and want to go. This should not be interpreted as the kids not wanting to be with their family, I believe it is simply a part of the disorder. That is why these researchers generally add wandering as part of the eloping, as it is leaving a safe area, such as home or school, without supervision. People sometimes forget just how smart our children are, even with a diagnosis of autism. My first concern with eloping was that at school Jimmy loved to play on the playground, just like most kids. Jimmy, having autism, did not understand he could not just go on the playground at any time. At pre-school the playground was just outside the door. All he had to do was run outside of the class, and then the grass and slides, swings, and sand were easy to get to. It became a game to him. He would run fast and the aide would chase him all the way to the swing. She would bring him back to class, and he would wait until she was busy, and then he would run to the slide and he would win the game get to the destination of fun most of the time, before she could catch him. In all fairness I should mention the aide was about 46 years old and a little chubby. Jimmy was a runner from the womb and with his tennis shoes on and a clutch item, he could give the physical education teacher a run for her money. I as a parent was never really too concerned about this because he was five or six years old. However, it became a serious matter, and I had to pull Jimmy from school for awhile because the school district put him in a classroom the next year that had a doorway that opened up to a busy street. They did not get the fact that Jimmy had a history of out running people through doorways, and I was not relying on the aide and teacher to out run Jimmy. However, as bad as that was, it did not prepare me for how I was personally touched by Jimmy’s elopement when he was 10 years old. I represent kids who have diagnosis of autism at state level hearings, and one day I was coming home at about 4:30 pm. As I pulled up to the house, I saw Jimmy’s 24-year-old assistant standing at the curb. I just knew something was wrong. I stopped in the middle of the street and yelled, “Where’s Jimmy?” and she said the words that reached in and grabbed my heart and squeezed it. “I don’t’ know!” For the first time in my life I could feel the blood pumping through my heart and traveling through my body. My heart was pushing that hard. As I was getting out of the car I asked, “When was the last time you saw him?” She said, “Twenty minutes ago.” I already had my cell phone in my hand calling 911 as I yelled out Jimmy’s name… ”Jimmy, Jimmy! Come here son, where are you??” I stuck my head in the door and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Jimmy Jimmy!” Thirty seconds had gone by. After four rings of the 911 call, they came. I gave them my name and address and I said, “My son Jimmy has a diagnosis of autism, and we can’t find him!” I was at my neighbors’ doors. I asked everyone. I said, “Have you seen Jimmy?” They could tell I was panicked, but they said “No, the unit will be there in a few minutes. I asked the assistant, “What was he wearing?” “Jeans and a light-blue shirt.” I told the dispatcher what he was wearing and that he was tall and thin… I was at the next neighbor’s house and my car was still in the street… Two or three minutes had passed when a car pulled up behind mine and the driver said, “What’s wrong?’ Another neighbor said, “We can’t find jimmy!” The dispatcher said, “Look up in the sky, you should see a helicopter… he is looking for Jimmy.” I kept asking anyone who was outside did they see him. Five minutes had passed since I had pulled up to the house, and it seemed like forever… A police officer in a parking meter truck pulled up and said, “I came from this way, but I did not see him. If he’s been gone for twenty-five minutes, he can’t be that far.” I told the dispatcher, “He could wander into someone’s house! He could run from the police, you just don’t know what he might do!” I just could not keep still. I told the assistant to stay there. I was going to look. I got in my car and drove up to anyone who was outside. It was getting late and it would be dark soon… I saw a guy and asked, “Have you seen a tall kid with jeans and LIGHT BLUE SHIRT?” He said, “Yea… He was smelling the flowers and playing. He went that way. ”How long ago?!” “Fifteen minutes ago.” I called 911 and told them and then kept looking… I was at the local school and driving in areas he knew near the house. I noticed all the people that I saw and knocked on their doors asking quickly, “Did you see a little boy!?” They were out in the streets in their cars driving and walking around, getting more people involved… people were everywhere… a car started blowing its horn … and kept blowing… and then pulled up to me and said, “They found him… he’s okay…” I called 911, and as I headed back to the house, the dispatcher said, ”The helicopter is watching him and the patrol cars don’t want to spook him… he is headed back towards the house, and he’s about one block away.” When I got back to the house, I saw Jimmy coming down the street looking at all the people following him and waiting outside their houses as he came home. He ran in the house as if to pretend he was never gone. I went inside and hugged Jimmy like I have never hugged him before and just did not let him go. What was a forty-five minute ordeal has still been the longest day of my life. Jimmy just decided to go to the gate. He closed the gate so our dog could not get out and then went to play. He was then spotted playing in the flowers and going by the playground. He was unaware of the danger he was in. Fortunately, traffic had been at a minimum because it was a residential area. Just remember, the kids are not running away from you per se. They may just be running to something of interest, or something they are curious about. I believe if you have a child with a diagnosis of autism you have a 80% chance of dealing with elopement in some form until the age of twenty-one.