In a blink of an eye
Autism, children and safety.
It could happen anywhere at any time and in an instant without you even knowing it until it's too late. It is every parent's worst fear and it is very common with autistic children. I know the feeling because it has happened to me when I was out with my son one day and it is one of the most anxiety filled moments that I would not wish on anyone because it is a very tense and scary time. I remember the day as if it was yesterday. My wife was working and my mother-in-law was out at her friend's house so I had the whole day to spend with my son and we decided to go to Great Adventure in New Jersey. It was a beautiful sunny day and we left for the park at around 11:00 am hoping to get there by early afternoon. We've been to the park at Great Adventure several times with my wife, son and mother-in-law but this was the first time that I was there with my son alone. I always make sure my son is at my side at all times and I usually hold his hand as well. We planned a full day at the park and I promised my son that we would go on all his favorite rides.
It was a warm day so we were seeking relief by choosing the rides that have some water splash action. As we were heading in the direction of those rides we happened upon a play area for kids with water sprinklers and baby water slides. Before I could ask my son if he wanted to cool off there he had disappeared without my even knowing it. It happened in an instant and I was in a state of panic. All I could see in front of me was a sea of kids and every time I thought I spotted my son it was another child. I was desperate and did not know what to do. I felt helpless and was afraid to leave the vicinity as I felt that would be worse. It seemed like time froze and I was paralyzed with fear contemplating where my son could be. I was anxious, fearful and panic stricken and all I could do was shout my son's name. I did not care what people thought as all I wanted was to be reunited with my son. I was in shock as each minute ticked by.
It seemed like an eternity and I thought I was going to lose it and then as quickly as he disappeared there he was running back in my direction and all I could do was take a deep breath and say thank you to God for reuniting us. As I saw him coming towards me he had a great big smile and was certainly having fun not knowing what I was going through. He was completely oblivious to what I felt and he seemed to not be affected by being alone for the duration. For me it seemed like forever but it was at most 3 or 4 minutes but that was the most tense and frightening 3 or 4 minutes I ever went through not knowing where my son was. I went through every possible emotion you could in such a short span of time and the elation I felt when he came back was beyond words and all I could do was hold my son's hand as tight as I possibly could and with a stern voice say "Matty, don't ever wander off like that again!" He promised he would never do it again. He was totally unaffected by the experience but I aged 4 years in the process. A year for each minute I did not know where he was.
After that tense experience we managed a fun day at the park and we went on all of Matty's favorite rides. We had a nice lunch and dinner at the park and we talked about what happened earlier in the day and I made sure Matty understood that he should never leave my side like that ever again especially in such a crowded area. He seemed to understand and promised me he would never do it again.
As we headed for home I was glad my son was safe with me in the car and that we had a fun time and the anxiety I felt was just for that brief time and it was drowned out by the elation I felt when we both held hands once again.
I can not over emphasize the importance of always keeping your child in your line of vision because if they disappear from you it has to be the worst thing to experience not knowing where they are, even if it is just for a few minutes or even seconds.
We have to keep our autistic children and any child for that matter safe and protected because children naturally wander off and it is so easy to lose them. We must be proactive and always keep our eyes on our children never losing sight of them. The sad realities though are that in some cases the child does not return for they have vanished in mysterious ways and it is the worst nightmare a parent could ever experience. My heart goes out to those parents who have lost a child in that fashion and it is truly heartbreaking as you always want your child to be safe and protected.
I pray for the children and their parents who have become separated that they will both be safely reunited and never go through that experience ever again.
I love you Matty and I will always be by your side!
Edward D. Iannielli III
- LifePROTEKT | How Technology is Serving the Autism and Alzheimers Community
A great resource for parents of autistic children who need to keep them safe and protected at all times.