Sometimes I feel as though autism follows me wherever I go. And the reality is that I take autism with me wherever I go. For example, whenever I take John to the beach. This summer my son was like a walking billboard; spreading the word near and far.
When you hear about people spreading autism awareness, most likely you will picture them handing out pamphlets or striking up a conversation at an event. Or in my case they could be explaining incidents or behaviors demonstrated by their child with autism.
My son has a few sensory issues, he tends to wander and he seems to have no sense of danger or fear. He also does not talk, point or wave. So, when we’re out we need to be we need to be extremely cautious. So much so that I actually had a Lojack safety net device placed on his ankle so that if, God forbid, he goes missing we should be able to find him.
You would think that with all of these precautions and three years of experience under my belt, John would never get very far from my sight. Unfortunately, I am far from flawless. A perfect example of this springs immediately to mind. Earlier this summer, while taking my son to the beach near our summer home….. he got away.
I want to preface this by saying that I don’t feel I’m entirely to blame for this situation. There were environmental factors at work as well. Namely, the woman on the blanket next to us. This woman was relaxing on the beach, reading a book and minding her own business. Which would have been fine except that her infant was sitting in a car seat next to her screaming at the top of his lungs.
I waited patiently for this woman to put her book down and acknowledge her child, which she failed to do. And in doing so she unwittingly set into motion a chain of events which could have been catastrophic to my son’s well being. What this woman didn’t realize while she rudely ignored her child, is that my son has sensory issues. One of which is an extreme sensitivity to loud obnoxious sounds.
So, while her son was crying my son was covering his ears and searching for the fastest escape route. And in the time it took me to turn and give this woman the dirtiest look I could muster, John took off.
In the blink of an eye, John was already thirty feet away running as fast as he could. I took off hot on his trail, heart stricken at the thought of John washing away in the ocean. I yelled his name at the top of my lungs, hoping against hope that today would be the day he would choose to acknowledge me. But alas, he kept going.
A young female lifeguard, noticing my distress, jumped off her tower and runs along beside me . As the lifeguard started to pass me, I have to say, my pride kicked in a little. I had a burst of adrenaline and began running as hard as I could. All the while thinking, “No way is this chick going to get to my son before I do.”
As we were chasing my son, the lifeguard asked me why my son wouldn’t stop when he heard me yelling his name and I shouted to her he had autism. The woman panted back, “who’s Autumn?” and I yelled, “No, he has AUTISM” Suddenly the lifeguard calls out to the beach full of people, “STOP THAT KID. HE HAS AUTISM”
Just as John seemed to understand the chaos around him and slowed down to look at us, a dog joined the fray. A chubby, black dog began barking frantically and wagging his tail at my three-year old, prompting him to run even faster.
So, now my son was in the lead of one of the most bizarre foot races you’ll ever see. John in front, the dog a close second, followed by the dogs unhappy owner, myself and the lifeguard (who I was proudly keeping pace with) pulling up the rear.
Yes, we were quite the spectacle. Random words were piercing the air, like “John”, “Autism”, “stop”. Then, seemingly out of the blue, I heard someone yell out “HOLLY,” and I screamed back “His name is John. Who’s Holly?” “THE DOG,” came the exasperated response.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, John tripped and landed face first in the sand. I’ve never been happy to see my son fall down but when I saw him hit the ground I sent a silent thanks God’s way. A couple down the beach ran over to help him up and as I reached my now crying son, the dogs owner approached me. He said, “OK, I have to ask. Who’s Autumn?” I laughed and said “No one, my son has autism.” The man looked at my son and then looked back at me and gave an understanding nod. I thought to myself, “Great, Awareness.”
So when you think about spreading autism awareness, don’t worry because our children, including John, spread awareness wherever they go. In case you were wondering, John is now operating in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.