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  • Writer's pictureKatie Vahey Gaebler

A day of extreme elopement

It’s been 7 weekdays since we don’t have camp as part of Bryson’s routine. While he seems happier not going (can’t blame him for that), and Casey doesn’t miss the over-an-hour round trip drive for drop off and pick up, it’s better for Wes to not spend so much his walking day in his car seat, and the exchange is my day is packed with Bryson. This is such a mixed feeling for me; I love my little busy B, and ultimately really hard- physically and emotionally. He demands constant attention and engagement. With less eyes on him constantly, he’s more apt to run off and trouble happens. I’ve grown used to the feeling of dread in the moment when I can’t find him, but none-the-less there’s dealing with the aftermath. Sigh.

Bryson’s extreme elopement has been a primary reason we can’t keep him settled into any school, camp, or organized activity. We used to see elopement as his extreme running- he just goes and doesn’t stop! But with therapy discussions we see how his little avoidances also count, and by that measure he does this 20-30 times per day. After 10 months of ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis), and with the daily consistency of his ASD school program this past Spring, that rate dropped tremendously. By now the major running off is more rare, but with reverting and other challenges this summer, today we had 2 major incidents. By major I mean they cause “everybody stops immediately,” and I need to untangle the aftermath with conversations I rather not have. Today, we had both a police officer show up at my front door, and a need for a full support staff search at the grocery store.

The incident with the police was just a perfect storm. It wouldn’t have normally been a major incident, but some neighbor’s sitter saw him walking (sans shoes) the 1 block up a moderately busy (for our town) street between our house and our local park, and reported a missing child walking alone. We had been at the park uncharacteristically for a picnic breakfast because we were having work done at our house, and I was chatting with our sitter over a scheduling issue. When I saw B run that direction away from the park, my instinct was he was heading home, a route he has walked (typically with an adult) 800 times since we moved to this neighborhood 3 years ago. Casey, Wes, and I got in Casey’s car (with his shoes left at the park) and drive home, where we found Brys standing across the street from our house. A half hour later an officer rang our doorbell, and I found myself explaining at length elopement as part of our family’s clinical diagnosis. This officer was insistent I should have called in a missing child case myself, but again I repeated, it happened so fast and as soon as I arrived home and found him, I figured all was well (since he was and B and I discussed his running off). Bryson even shared with the officer at length “my dad told me when another kid is mean to me (after having sand thrown at him) to just walk away, so I did.” My highly verbal level 1 ASD could even recite his address and my phone number upon request, so it was really a team effort at that point to convince this officer I was not neglectful to my child. This was all before 9:30am.

He was still in the mood for the botanical gardens and our picnic, and that trip being positive, we shared a well deserved ice cream. But I hadn’t had a chance to plan for dinner and so we stopped at the grocery store. I really couldn’t blame him for being antsy by check out. And he was doing so great helping load groceries off the cart, I just needed to pay at checkout. I know when he disappears it happens so fast, it’s like I don’t even realize what could happen until it already has. After the page and search, he was found standing atop a concrete pillar on the edge of the parking lot. A nice woman was trying to encourage him down, to no avail. Fortunately no one was hurt (my typical daily prayer). What else do you do but apologize. All I could do was drag him back in, paid for my bags, and he wheeled out the cart back to the car. By that point he was tired, and so was I. But our last agenda item for the day was his 3 hr therapy session, I keep my fingers crossed for our second wind.

Keeping this kid entertained with a novel stream of ideas and activities is no-joke exhausting. John does a knock-out job on Saturday mornings of wearing him out on hikes/bikes/climbs. It keeps them both entertained, they typically go for a reward of out to lunch after, and I feel good knowing everyone as been sufficiently exercised so afternoon couch time has been earned. But that’s a different type of engagement from what I need to do, a daily schedule of ongoing engagement, often with trying to balance Wesley’s needs simultaneously. And even John will say 20 minutes of the same conversation on repeat with Brys leads him to half check-out, and we know that’s when Brys’ demands for attention sore.

The demands of parenting are rough. I’ve read enough blogs and talked to friends and family, that’s par for the course. And then there are the demands of parenting a special needs child. Autism, and in Bryson’s version with high levels of elopement, inability to focus, constant aggression, and requirement of undivided individual adult attention to his causes, just wear me (and anyone) thin. And right now in our lives, we have exhausted all other sources of support. At this point we’re just on this count down until school resumes. John and I discuss regularly that we know it won’t be like this forever, and I want to enjoy my boys when they are little. It’s just such a juggle right now.

Four more weeks. We got this.

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