Sunday, February 1, 2009

The wanderer

While David willingly went with us wherever we took him, he liked to wander off by himself. That started at a very young age. Even when he could not talk, he saw his older sister, Lisa, and his older brother, Sean, going to school and even though he could never say it he decided that he had to go too. Naturally, since he could not tell anyone where he was going, he just went. For those of you who would admonish me that we should have locked the door, thrown a high chain lock, kept him fenced in in the back yard, okay. We did all that. David had no trouble with any of it. He just left when he wanted to, without a word or any signal that he was leaving. School called. Yvette had to go get him. That was the beginning.

The number of times when David would simply leave only increased after that. He decided that he needed to explore the neighborhood. He made friends with every dog, cat and ferret that was allowed outside the house. I found out where each one of them was because I would find David playing with them when I went after him. At other times I found him at the neighborhood playgrounds. His wanderings got to be more predictable so that when he did wander off, Yvette and I were able to round him up rather quickly, usually 10 to 15 minutes. Still, I cannot count the number of times he managed to escape.

One time we were surprised. I was tutoring my nephew in calculus. Yvette was upstairs getting sick with the stomach flu. The phone rang and I picked up.

"This is the county sheriff's department. Do you know where your son is?"

I replied, "Obviously, you know. Would you like to tell me where he is so I can pick him up?"

He was down the street about 1/2 mile. He had ridden his green tricycle over there. I got there a few minutes later. One of the ladies there wanted to give me a piece of her mind.

"How can you let him wander off like that?"

I shrugged and said, "You obviously do not know my son." I took David home, followed by the sheriff.

I explained to him that David is autistic and therefore if he gets it in his mind to leave he could not tell us because he could not talk. David's solution to this problem is to simply go when he feels the need. The sheriff had not heard of autism. This is one of the many memories that contradict the idea that autism has always been here. We are just now getting around to being able to diagnose it.

I also explained that this was one of many times when David took it in his head to take off without telling anyone. However, if he had any suggestion how I could keep David from taking off like that I would be willing to act on anything he could come up with (GPS collars did not exist then). He could offer nothing more than be more careful next time.

But then came the social worker. She was young and inexperienced. Her idea was that maybe David should go to a foster home. I had to disabuse her of that idea.

"Do you know what it is like to have an autistic child?
Do you know how rigid they can be?
Do you know the kind of fits they can throw if they are taken into a strange situation?
Have you ever had to deal with any of the problems that come with an autistic child?
Are you sure that this would be in David's best interest?"

She backed off. "I was merely suggesting that it might be a possibility. "

My eyebrows raised, but I bit off the retort that was forming.

That need to keep David in range was a dominant theme when he was young.


  1. You forgot to talk about the time Dave pulled down his pants and screamed bloody murder at the school library.

  2. Thanks,

    No I had not forgotten it. David had wandered over to the elementary school where Lisa was going to school. David had an affinity for water and he hated to wear wet clothes. When he had been taken into the school office where they were calling Yvette to come get him, David wandered off into the library. Since he had been playing in a puddle, his clothes were bothering him. He entertained the second grade by taking his pants off in the library. What fun to have an autistic brother.