This is a common tragedy, sadly, for parents of children with autism. Mikaela was severely developmentally disabled, having the cognitive ability of a one year old, and was alone with her brother who was, I believe, younger. He went inside the house and she left the yard.
It only took a short time from the news of her death for an accusatory piece written by someone who has CLEARLY never raised a child with a disability or autism, nastily scolding the parents for their culpability AND the rest of ur parents who best do our duty so as not have “missing kids”.
To the writer of that piece, I’m not linking your article because you obviously made to publish it as SOON AS YOU COULD for attention, traffic, and shock value. Instead, I’m going to give you a lesson on what it’s like to raise a child with autism, elopement issues and a developmental disability.
My Typical Day, 4 Years Ago
You wake up. You wonder, FIRST THING, if she’s still in her room. Sure, you’ve put up a gate, but she mastered climbing over that a month after you got it so you scramble out of bed and sigh with relief that she’s still in bed.
You get your children ready for school, and peek out to see the school van is there to pick them up. You grab child #1, while the cat you want to keep in runs out, and you have a momentary sh** pickle wondering where the HELL YOUR KID IS. Oh, ok, she’s right there, in the back of the playroom buried in toys.
You buckle her into the van and pray for the next 6 hours solid that no one will EVER TAKE THEIR EYES OFF HER AT SCHOOL. She could become one of those missing kids while you’re not looking. You jump every time the phone rings, and at 3:30, she returns home safely. You Thank The Lord. You get the kids in but the bus driver still has her thermos and you turn…OH CRAP WHERE DID SHE RUN TO? Oh, wait, there she is in the bushes. Whew! You bring her inside.
It’s a lovely day, but you don’t ever use your backyard, because you are terrified that your kids will run in opposite directions and it’ll be the one day someone drives doing 50 down the road behind your house. Or she’ll fall into the 9′ deep stone-lined easement behind your house. So you pump up the AC and make them play until you can’t take them begging anymore and put on a movie.
You’ve got the house locked up like Fort Knox so you decide to tackle the washing, again cursing yourself for being so stupid as to buy as house with an upstairs laundry room. You come down after 15 frantic minutes of shuffling dirty and clean clothes and do a head count. One. Crap. You have 2 kids… WHERE THE HELL IS SHE? Check the door – maybe the alarm is off? You call and call and call. You ask your other child if she’s seen her – she has no idea. You start The Hunt.
The Hunt can be over in 5 minutes or it can last a full 20 minutes. Your fear is that she got out by some trick of the door or window alarms not sounding, or she’s in the house and has somehow suffocated or drowned or electrocuted or swallowed glass in your COMPLETELY baby-proofed-still home, that’s not even remotely baby-proof for a child who can walk, climb, and drag furniture. Your fears continue to mount – crap, if only she’d answer! she’d answer, even if she’s nonverbal, if she knew how frantic I was! right? – your voice pitches higher & higher. Your heart is in your throat, racing, and your stomach feels like it’s encased in ice, and you’re sure she’s hurt, and Oh God WHERE IS SHE!?? Then you pull open the linen closet door and she’s curled up on a shelf, sucking her thumb, smiling at you. You wonder why you ever thought a linen closet was a “good” idea.
Your husband comes home in the midst of this and rolls his eyes at you.
You pass the “watcher” reigns on to him as you cook, clean, get ready for tomorrow, and put the kids to bed. You relax for a bit, then go to bed. You’re just drifting off when you hear a thud. You realize it’s the middle of the night, husband is snoring, and you run like hell into the hall to see if she’s made it down the stairs yet. She’s outside her bedroom door, deciding where to go.
You tuck her in between you and your husband, who grumbles, and spend half the night getting kicked and the other half reaching over making sure she’s still there until husband decides he’s had and puts a sleeping child back in her bed…round about dawn.
You drift off just as the alarm goes off, and start it all over again.
Things Are Better Today
This is not our life today, and I share it not to complain or fuss, or sensationalize, or get readership. It’s merely to inform people what it’s like. None of the above is exaggeration; this was YEARS AND YEARS of our life. I kid you not, after we did lose Zoe once, day and night was like this. And we did EVERYTHING RIGHT when she snuck out of our resort condo at age 3, it’s just that we didn’t go over the top – so we changed that.
It’s been years of peeing with the door open, listening to every peep and twice as hard to silence, and a hot, stuffy indoor life. At 7, she is far more mature, and rarely runs…sometimes she gets distracted and will wander. We got the fence and go out now, however, Zoe can now reach the bolts and slide locks so that alarm better not ever die. This is not something that we’ve ever gone through with Amelia, so I blame autism, thank you very much.
Did the Lynch’s make a mistake? Maybe. Or maybe they went to the bathroom, or slammed a toe in a door, or found something broken that needed to be cleaned right away. It takes an instant, and if she was like my kid, she was FAST. No attention-seeking “journalist” can ever make those parents feel worse than they do right now, but thanks, lady, for giving it your best shot. I’ll remember that fact-packed article about how not to be a negligent autism mama when I hear what sounds like a lock opening in the middle of the night. I’m sure it will help.
The NAA has ALSO weighed in on this terrible article (and also graciously did not provide a link). Read: