Now let's look at the other definition: to slip away : ESCAPE. Insert picture of Laurie the Eloper here:
Elopement is common with people who have autism. And let me be the first to tell you that it is scary as hell. Imagine that your kid is RIGHT there beside you one second, and the next she has seemingly disappeared into thin air. Sometimes you have a clue as to which way she goes. Other times, you don't even know where to begin. Thankfully, you find her each time.
I'm sure by now you can gather that Laurie has been eloping. Laurie is opportunistic. She is SO unbelievably smart. But she has no fear, and she is non-verbal, so she can't even tell someone that she's lost...if she figured out she was lost.
Laurie takes off on us when we have our backs turned for even a second. Usually she runs to the car...she's ever hopeful that we'll take her to her mothership...the originator of the noise hangover for parents everywhere...Chuck E. Cheese. But lately she's been taking off in the direction of our neighbors' houses. One neighbor has kids' toys on the back deck (they have grandkids). Another neighbor has a pool that would take Laurie approximately 4 seconds to jump into (she's just that crafty and agile). And if Laurie is so inclined, she can just continue on down the hill through our neighborhood and get to the parkway...beyond that is the highway, and on the other side of that is the Susquehanna River. Now that is an extreme scenario, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities. We've all heard stories of people who have wandered and have ended up in locations far from their home.
She's also disappeared at Wegmans, a grocery store chain in upstate NY. You should see their lock-down system. It's so impressive. We've seen it twice now. And if I ever see it in action again, I might cry. I'll write about my love of Wegmans, and specifically how they handled our lost child, in another post. Suffice it to say that Wegmans (as a whole) is my hero. Superman ain't got nothin' on them!
Anyway, since the eloping from our home has also kicked up few notches, we have been making some adjustments to our home and to our daily lives in general. We have alarms that SCREAM when you open the doors. It doesn't deter her in the least, but it does tell us that Laurie could be on the loose! Annie will usually drop everything and chase after her...if she's not absorbed in a book, that is. Annie is a wonderful big sister.
I've been working on getting specialized locks that require a passcode. Our Service Coordinator has been helping us with this process. And I tend to take daily photos of her just so I remember what she was wearing (assuming she has not stripped down to nothing). It is surprising just how much you forget when you are panicking.
We use a special enclosed bed that will keep her safe at night, and in case of a fire, I know EXACTLY where she is! This is a photo of her actual bed at the shop in Maine. Patrick Cyr, the owner and creator of the Courtney Bed, makes these beds by hand:
|Courtney Bed: http://www.cyrdesigns.com/|
We have a special child harness that we use when we go out in public. We purchased it from a company in Canada, because apparently here in the US, keeping your child from becoming a pancake is a bit frowned upon if you have said child on a "leash." Laurie has a pink harness, and doesn't seem to mind it at all. The owner, Elaine, was very helpful and patient...I emailed her a zillion questions before I purchased it. It looks similar to this:
|Child Harnesses by Elaine: http://www.childharness.ca/|
When we travel overnight, we use the Nickel Bed Tent. You can use a twin mattress with it. If you use an air mattress instead of a regular mattress, be sure to wedge the tent between the wall and another piece of heavy furniture...it is easily tipped over with the air mattress. This is what it looks like:
|Nickel Bed by Ready, Set, Bloom, LLC: http://myreadysetbloom.com/|
We did have assistance with the Courtney Bed, but all of these items are worth every single penny.
I've "registered" her with the Sheriff's office, and she's been fingerprinted. I've also been investigating GPS systems. I'm ready to go all kinds of Big Brother with this kid.
And in case you are wondering, "Hey, maybe you should just work on her behaviors," let me just say that is a fabulous idea! Now why didn't I think of that? Oh, wait, I did. Off and on we've been working on this, beginning with just stopping at the end of the driveway (that started when she was three). Now Laurie is almost 7, she's super-strong and very quick. She forgets nothing and is very stubborn. So if she finds out that our neighbor has a pool (something I've tried to keep from her), then she'll head over there every chance she gets.
Laurie does have a wonderful behavioral therapist who works with her. We've been working on other things, such as eating new foods and potty training (two very important things!), but I think we'll be turning our attention (in full-force) to the eloping for the time being.
So, in a nutshell, eloping among the autistic is not romantic as it sounds...