He Wandered Away

Today’s my birthday.  Yesterday, a boy from Savion’s class in the Autism Resource classroom, eloped from home. It was early morning and by late afternoon, he had been found by the police a mile away from home.

A year ago from yesterday, 5/22/2015, Taj wandered away from home…and then the police came and took our three boys away from us.

I had gone to my mom’s to get a cake pan. Earlier that morning I had bought bright blue frosting, confetti cake mix, and candy letters for a fun baking experience.  I was discussing how best to remove cake from a pan without crumbling when I got a call from Victor.

“Is Taj with you?”
“No. I left him with you and the boys.”
“He’s not with me!”

I shuddered and my heart started beating faster. I would have to call 911. Again. My mom overhearing said, “I’ll go to the house.” Victor would start driving in the neighborhood, so I ran outside and started yelling.

“Taj! Taji! Where are you Taj?!” Come to me Taj!” Victor saw me running on foot while he was driving and we went back to the house.   Mom was on the front porch, with policemen standing close by and in the front yard.   Three police cars were in front. I dreaded what was coming. The last time one of my boys had run away I had been told, “This can’t keep happening, ” by a police officer. Was Taj ok? Were my children about to be taken away?

I stepped out. In the front yard a woman came up to me with Taj.

“My husband was biking and we thought he looked familiar, we brought him to the police. He’s been so good.” She handed him to me and Taj grinned, grasping a bag of Fritos.

“We have to look out for the kids..” I heard one police officer say to Victor. Anwar was bewildered, standing next to my mom, Savion hopped from one foot to the other and Taj munched his Fritos. I knew then. They were taking my boys away.

I pinned my hands to my sides and took deep breaths. I didn’t want to be seen as unhinged or emotional, I was already seen as a negligent parent. I turned my back though, when I realized I was glaring.  I then sank down on the front porch and started to cry. My mom put her hands around me.

We were told to get a bag together for the children. Victor’s voice started to raise in agitation in response to a police officer’s question.

“Calm down honey, please,”I said.
“You don’t tell me what to do, I’m an adult!” I knew that his anger wasn’t at me, but at the helplessness of being in the situation we were in, but it still hurt.

I wiped my face with my hands and smiled at the boys. What to say?

“Mommy is going to pack your bags and you are going for a ride with the police officers.” I smiled. Pretending. Victor and I didn’t know where they were being taken. Topeka? Manhattan? Lawrence? Would the caretakers know about children with autism? We were told to go to the police station for further information.

At the station, we were told that the Department of Children and Families would be in contact with us. I thought, “My children are well-fed, we don’t beat them, we love them…but it’s not enough.” We got a call from the DCF, and it was decided that while our case was being decided the boys could stay with my parents, but no visits or phone calls. I made sure to give my mom the cake mix, frosting, and candy letters that the boys had been so excited to make.

My mom told me later that the first night, Anwar sat at the table and sobbed. He knew something was wrong, even if he couldn’t understand it.  Savion kept asking, “What happened to my house? Is it gone?” Taj, surrounded by his grandparents and brothers, was happily unaware of what was going on.  Victor and I got a lawyer to represent us.

I was instructed by the lawyer to draw up a resume.   I listed autism conferences I had attended, my participation in the autism support group, and parenting classes I had taken.   Second to that I listed my degree and community involvement.  I needed to get across that I was aware and trying my hardest keep my children safe.  Victor also provided a resume.  It was a long, lonely and sad birthday weekend.  I was comforted in knowing that the boys were safe with my parents, and making the cake they had been so excited about.

The boys had to stay with my parents during half of the next week, so a babysitter had to be found.  Luckily, a paraprofessional that had taken care of them before was available.

A DCF worker came out to visit Victor and I and asked,
“Why do you think this keeps happening?” I was frustrated with this question. Didn’t she know about the diagnosis of autism and the behaviors prevalent in those children diagnosed?  I politely answered with my explanation asd and what it looked like in our family.

The day of court, Victor and I dressed nicely and went up to the lawyer’s office. Victor and I didn’t even make it to the court house. The prosecuter said our case never even should have gone so far, given the boys’ diagnosis. That same day, we went to my parents house to pick up the boys.

“Mommy, you came back!” shouted Savion.
“Mommy, home?” Taj giggled. Anwar came and pressed his forehead to my mine, as I squatted down to give them hugs. The baby-sitter was just as excited to see that we were together. The DCF worker came to inspect the changes that had been made to the house and found them satisfactory. Alarms on every door going outside, doors that unlocked only with a key and a fence between the front and back yard. The DCF worker also gave me the name of a hospital, that made visits to children’s schools, to help develop plans of action to quell negative behavior.

So, a year later, I am thankful that my boys are still with me. Thankful that the little boy from Savion’s class was found safe yesterday. And yes, I’m thankful to the police, for every time they have brought them back to me.


Sunday at the Sunset Zoo

Last Sunday, Anwar, Savion, Taj and I went to the Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, KS.   Savion had been lobbying for weeks to go to the Rolling Hills Zoo in Salina.

“First I go to school, then we go to Rolling Hills Zoo,” Savion told Victor .

“We can go to grandma’s and then we go to Rolling Hills Zoo,” Savion informed me.

“After speech therapy, we go to Rolling Hills Zoo,” he whispered to my mom.

Notice that Savion never asked, if, we could go to the Zoo.   Savion has adopted the “first, then” format I use to simplify directions.  For example, instead of saying: “Get your shoes, and we’ll go for a drive.”  I say: “First shoes, then car.”  I might reinforce the statement with sign for Anwar(shoes and car) and also type it in Anwar’s speaking device.

So we went to the closest zoo.  It’s about a 30 minute drive to Manhattan,KS.  Once parked, I started with my safety narration.

“Mommy unbuckle, then Anwar and Savion unbuckle.  Anwar and Savion get out of car with Mommy.  Anwar, Savion and Mommy go other side of car, unbuckle Taj.  Anwar, Savion, Taj, walk with Mommy to zoo.”  Anwar held my left hand, Savion held my right hand and Taj was holding onto Savion.  As we approached the entrance, two women approached us.

“Excuse me, can you take our picture?”

“Sorry, I can’t my children might run away.” The boys had made it from the car to the zoo without eloping; I didn’t want to mess that up.  Because  the last time Savion was at the zoo, Victor had prevented Savion from chasing the roaming peacocks and kept him from racing down hills.  Last Sunday the boys and I walked together.  They didn’t try to chase the peacocks, bang on the enclosures or run away at a full sprint.  It has taken a lot of patience, practicing walking together on paths, to get to this point.

I had my key ring of picture cards to reinforce my words as we walked.   Stop.  Walk with Me. Wait.  Those were the cards I used the most.  Savion said his favorite part was “Hilarious” the Hyena.  Taj liked the gibbons, Gabriel and Glenda.  Anwar enjoyed being outside and feeling the scattered raindrops on his face.

Before leaving, there was a small playground the boys played in.  Taj was delighted that the flamingo exhibit was on one side and down below gibbons were chattering.  The boys were able to sit still for a picture!  It was a great day.

Giving Thanks While Running Late

I rarely use an alarm clock.  But this morning, I wish I had.  I woke up; it was light outside, the first indicator I was late.  Second, I hadn’t been greeted with a “Wake up, mommy, Wake up!”  Were the boys sick?  Asked my husband what time it was…6:36 am.  The boys’ bus was coming at 6:45am.

l fumbled for my glasses.  Had I knocked them off the bedside table, or washed my face last night and left them on the bathroom counter?  Squinting I inspected the floor, and found them, one step further and they would have been bent.  I exhaled my relief.  Time to count my blessings.  Gratitude in the morning revs me up, listing what I’m missing or did wrong slows me down.  And I needed to be quick this morning.  Bring it on.

“Hi, Mommy!” Savion and Taj greeted me.  Anwar curled up beneath his blanket as I entered the living/bedroom.  Our house is small; we have the dining table and boys’ beds in one room.  Also a kitchen, laundry room, our bedroom and another room for storage.  We stopped getting sofas, the boys damaged those so quickly.

A quick assessment of this morning’s blessings were needed.   The boys’ clothes were organized; backpacks were ready; Anwar’s IPAD was charged for class; their shoes were in the house; I had the house and car keys; the boys weren’t sick and they’d have breakfast at school; also they were following a routine despite not having their checklists.

Every  morning each child gets a laminated check list, there is one for school days and one for off days.  A provider that works with Taj helped us with these.  There are 8 steps, getting up is the first step, eating, folding blankets, brushing hair, etc.. Getting on the bus is the last step, and we got extra time because it came at 6:50 am.

Our only hiccup: Taj running to the back of the house when the bus came, and me having to carry him to the bus while he protested.  Maybe he was upset because we didn’t have the checklist.   Or maybe that I didn’t sing, “Good morning, good morning, we slept the whole night through good morning, good morning, to you,” after he greeted me.  But he stopped at the bottom of the bus steps and walked up by himself, and for that I am thankful.

Rushed mornings can upset a full morning at school, but the boys were following directions as they boarded the bus, and that was encouraging.  I had walked  outside with a coat flung over my pajamas and my feet stuffed into boots.  I got dressed for the day after I saw them off to school.

As Victor was getting ready for work he said ,”Wow! Honey, I didn’t think you’d be able to get them ready in time.  That’s awesome!”  It did feel pretty good.  Tomorrow though, I’m setting an alarm.

A Team for Anwar

“Bas-eht-all.”  That’s how Anwar pronounces basketball, and when he says it he’s grinning and giggling.   He’s on the Junction City Special Olympics Team named the “Pace Setters.”  I love that name.   Each athlete performs to the best of their ability, setting their own pace.   He started this year.

The first time we went to practice, Anwar was awed at the Junction City Middle School Gym.  He could do his echolalia(repeating noises like “Ahh,” and “Nyeeh,”) and hear it reverberate.  The pull out floor to ceiling benches just begged to be jumped on(which I couldn’t allow).  As Anwar has learned basketball skills, we have learned how to practice with Anwar.

No sitting on the sidelines when Anwar’s at practice.  Victor and I alternate weekly who takes him; suiting up for a workout when it’s time to go.   The team is organized with athletes rotating stations: dribbling skills, rebounding,  passing, scrimmaging, etc..   We have to be vigilant for Anwar’s safety as he does the programs.

Anwar got hit in the head once.   He had wandered under a basket and even though someone shouted, “Heads up,” he didn’t look to see the ball rebounding off the backboard.   When the team jogs laps, we’re beside him, ensuring he doesn’t suddenly stop and examine the floor(he likes to lie down and press his face to the court, I don’t know if he likes the temperature, or is enjoying the different point of view), he could possibly trip someone or have them fall on him while they are running.  Usually he focuses on the ceiling during stretches, so I help position his limbs.   For passing I put the ball at eye level for him and say, “Anwar, look ” and tap the ball so I can get his focus.  I back away, slowly increasing the distance of the bounce and then chest pass.  Sometimes he has looked everywhere except at me.   I’ll walk up close to him again until I get his focus.  His independence has increased with every practice.

“Basket. Ball in basket Anwar.”  That’s how I first explained shooting baskets, pointing to the net while facing him.   He likes to walk up under the basket and throw it from the bottom of the net up.  Staying on a spot has been challenging; he has gotten huge cheers from everyone when able to focus and shoot.  Other goals included:  hitting the ball in a square on the wall, passing to teammates around the key, and dribbling from point A to point B( he uses two hands to dribble to help with control of the ball, eventually we’ll get to one hand).

Anwar’s team shirt is tye-died bright blue with his name and number in bright yellow colors.  It suits him perfectly as he loves bright colors.  He will ask for basketball throughout the week, getting his shoes and pants.   To an outsider during practice, they might say he’s not engaged, that he’s just staring off into space.  I would have to disagree.  When he has gotten a shot close to the basket, he’s jumped up and down laughing.

To practice skills, after school I had him shoot from different points around our backyard basketball hoop.  For everytime he would shoot the ball from a marked place, he got a small piece of Luna Bar, it helped to keep him engaged.

His first state competition was in Hays, Kansas  March 17-18th, 2016.  He was excited when the team walked across the Fort Hays State University gym floor for the Opening Ceremonies.  Even Taj and Savion got in on the action, waving to families in the crowd.  Anwar competed in team skills: passing; and individual skills: shooting, dribbling, and throwing the ball at a correct spot on the wall.   He was a proud recipient of a medal and ribbon.

I’m thankful that Anwar has the chance to be a part of a group, and that our family has 11227862_1037551472950634_7454967911378679210_n  the opportunity to cheer him on.  Attending to directions, focusing on the content and processing information are skills taken for granted in sporting events.  Following a game plan would be difficult for Anwar, at this time.  With Special Olympics, the sports are broken down into specific skills(if needed) for athletes that need more structure or supports and the degrees of competition varies, whether that’s playing a full game or participating in one event.  It’s great that Anwar has a weekend activity all his own.  Our next sport with the Special Olympics?  Track and Field.


Eloping: More Than a Secret Engagement

I’ve had to jump fences to catch my sons.  Follow Anwar’s tracks in the snow outside of my house to find him.  Race down streets calling out their names.  Rescue them before they bounded into the deep end of the pool, the lifeguard’s whistle blowing behind us.

Savion walked out of our house once, and he was returned to me by the police shortly after, I didn’t even know.   Savion was smiling, saying he had gone in search of, “wild animals.”  I was angry and ashamed at myself for being negligent, thankful that he was unharmed, and distressed that this kept happening.   As a parent, you have to be on 24/7, but with the child on the spectrum, that’s magnified.  These wandering away behaviors are called elopement.

Savion or Anwar would run into oncoming traffic and not be afraid.  Victor and I tried bracelets that, when the boys went beyond a certain perimeter our phone alarms started, but the boys chewed them off.  We tried bracelets on their ankles, but they chewed them off as well.  Shoes can be slipped off.

After Taj wandered away last May, Victor and I made  some changes in and around the house.  We had a fence put between the front and back yard.  In the past Savion had run to the backyard, climbed over the fence and run down the alley while I was in the front with the other two.  We purchased a climbing dome, because Anwar likes going to other people’s yards and climbing trees.   We got a large trampoline for the backyard, since sometimes they would run towards the nearest park.  Eventually, we will get a swing set, there’s one at my parents’ house, but they’ve outgrown it. We changed the locks, the only way the boys can get out is if we open the door.  We wear the house keys on lanyards.   Anwar’s arms are long enough to take off the door chain, unbolt the door and open the screen door. Before we changed the locks, Taj and Savion would drag chairs over or stand on the table to remove the door chain. Whenever the back or front door is opened an alarm goes off.

All of these changes have helped to keep them safe from wandering, but they still have the urge to run.  Thankfully ,the Junction City Police Department recently started the “Take Me Home” program, used in other communities as well.  A person, who may need assistance if  alone, is enrolled, their picture taken and caregiver contacts are included in the database.  If this person is found by a police officer they can use the “Take Me Home” database.  I will sign up for this.  If you live in Junction City and want more information, stop by the Police Department.  I hope that this service can help other families as well.


Bacon, Sugar Cookies, and Breakfast

The bacon was burnt. My son was wailing. The solution: sugar cookies. Yes, it’s unhealthy and yes it’s not the best model to set before your children, an empty calorie breakfast.

However, when 4:00 am is your children’s normal waking time, and 8:00 am feels like noon… a breather is needed to survive the rest of your day. With my middle son singing, “The computer needs a virus! The computer needs a virus!” I corrected him, “The computer has a virus hon.” Which meant it had broken down and my youngest son was tugging my shirt giggling and saying from low to high volume, “Ipad! Ipad!”

My oldest had become absorbed with the oven countdown. He then ran to get his quilt, put it on his head and yelled, “Bwwwahhh!” His portrayal of Rapunzel swinging from a parapet with long hair fluttering behind her, his short coils just not enough.

I still hadn’t eaten, and though cookies are not a favorite of mine, I took a bite after they had cooled. The sugar caused a grimace, but I smiled in front of my son. It was a Saturday and as I turned on the Disney Radio and gave two of my sons pens to draw with and the other a Barney book, I finally sat down. My husband rushed out and exclaimed, “What is happening?!”

I had no words. I was exhausted and worn out, but happy that no one was exhibiting self-injurious behavior or trying to fly off of the table.

Back to the the contents of breakfast though, I acknowledge that it’s not the best scenario, but it’s a great alternative to shutting down and zoning out as the chaos grows. Besides, its’ not every morning…