Thursday, July 19, 2012

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Today I was driving Dan home on a busy street and saw a child that we know from school riding his bike on the road. This child also has Autism, and was obviously wandering away from home into a dangerous road setting. There were cars backed up for three blocks to avoid him but no one out of their car yet.
I pulled a U-turn, parked, ran him down. The only other person who stopped out of the 10 or so cars passing, watching and yelling at this kid was another mom from the same school. We got to him about the same time, locked eyes and immediately thought the same thing. "Oh my gosh, this could have been mine."

I put him in my car. "Hi Dan!" he said, and Dan waved back.  (Which for those two is pretty impressive communication so there's a silver lining for the day.)
Among the little posse of 3rd grade girls in swimsuits in the other mom's car, one piped up that she thought she knew where the Wanderer's house was. ("Hey that's Dan! He goes to our school too! Hi Dan!") So other mom took the bike, and went to see if she could find where this kiddo lived.
I stayed put. I had no choice since someone else (following us while still sitting in their giant black SUV) had already called the police and told me I could not leave the scene with the child. Now, hey, that's great, I'm all for calling the police when you find a child. I didn't know where to take him, anyway.

I was shaken. It's a bad recurring nightmare for any mom, Autism mom or not. You worry about your little non-verbal wanderer going into traffic, down a side road, unable to tell anyone where he belongs, and/or falling into someone's really awful hands. I needed a minute to calm everyone and myself down.

Then the police officer got there.
I told the officer I knew the kid, and we waited for the other mom to return, hopefully having found this lost one's house. I told the officer our Wanderer had Autism, just like my son, and that they do this sometimes. His response was to say that he'd seen this kid before, and if he wanders again, he'll be calling CPS.

CPS? Really? For a wandering child on a summer day?
It's not like he was in a FREAKING CAGE or something.
But I digress.

Eventually a grandparent from the child's house was brought to the scene by the other mom. I herded our Wanderer over to him, and the police officer proceeded to sternly talk more about CPS and get out a notepad/ticket-writing-thingy.
At this point I got into my car since I didn't need to hear what was ultimately none of my business.
I waited in my car just in case either adult had any more questions for me and as he drove away, the officer pursed his lips and rolled his eyes at me indicating frustration. And so much more.

Now I love police officers, on the whole. They are good people I believe, in almost every case.
And this man wasn't a mean man in any way. When he first got to the scene, I was still pretty shaken to see our little friend so close to danger and he was very kind and gave me a hug. I don't know the background on his experience, if any, with this family, but I do know the judgement seemed a bit harsh.
This kid is always clean, well fed, mostly happy and healthy and comes to school regularly. At least that's what I have seen over the last 3 years since he's attended and I've volunteered there.

What hit home about this event is this:
Apparently it's okay to keep my child locked in a cage, wearing only a diaper, with a dirty mattress and no food in the house, and never take them to school, but if he wanders, look out.
Now, I don't know if this is the first or 50th time our little friend has become a Wanderer, and I do know there are many aspects to both cases that I am not privy to, but I have met all three of the children.
They are not always easy to care for, but all of them are so freaking easy to love.
To not ignore.
To recognize the person who is in there, and to acknowledge and accept the right way to treat them.

Parents in general have a lot of judgement piled on us in today's society, but it seems sometimes that parents of children with special needs have an even higher standard to answer to.
And yet in the latter court case of neglect, (yeah I said it) some "experts" have written that they feel that it is "understandable" treatment since these parents have no "support" from the community.
I'm sorry, but my colleagues, our teachers, and so many supporting structures are available, how can this be justified? We support so much, so often that we are burning out.

On the other hand, what parent doesn't screw up once in a while? That's when we need to fall back on the Village it takes to raise a child. --just  not every day, all day, with no responsibility for our actions.

And the last thing we need during our screw up is someone comparing us to the worst of the worst and threatening to take our children to keep them safe. No one kept those caged kids "safe" in the long run. Our society, our village, let those kids and ME down. Apparently my child's value is diminished and he is cage-able.

 To compare the cases is ludicrous, but that's what it feels like happened today. I know the officer wants what's best for the kid, but it felt like salt in the wound from my perspective -a sick double standard given what happened in our community just in the past few months: Those parents were acquitted.

I don't have the answers. My child is now sleeping in his bed. Safe, clean, door opened. Loved. He has wandered before. And he will again.