PART OF THE SERIES: AUTISM PARENTING
It was supposed to be a glorious Memorial Day celebration among friends. Two families who have children with autism having fun, relaxing around the pool. No judgment, no pretending, no stress. We were all in the same boat. The men were on the patio discussing men stuff. I was talking with my friend Debbie by the pool.
Debbie is the mom of triplets – two of them have autism. They were seven years old at the time.
My middle son, Nolan, came through the screen door and needed my attention. I took my eyes off Brody (my youngest son who has autism) for just a millisecond to talk with him. In that timeframe, Brody (who was then 5 years old) had somehow fallen into the deep end of the pool, without making a sound, and was lying there motionless. Next thing I know, Nolan said, “Mom – I think Brody is drowning.” I looked and saw him there, eyes open, with his arms over his head. I went into overdrive and jumped in the pool to save him, clothes and all.
I pulled him out. He coughed up water, but was alert and seemed fine. I, however, was not. I couldn’t breathe. I had come to understand why drowning is called the “silent killer.” When I say Brody didn’t make a sound, HE DID NOT MAKE A PEEP. There was no noise as he fell in the pool, he never splashed, yelled help, or made any sound trying to fight for his life. Four adults and two middle schoolers were all outside, steps away, and yet nobody realized this had happened until Nolan sounded the alarm.
My husband kept telling me everything was okay, but all I could think about was what might have happened. Brody was petrified of swimming for the next two years and that was fine with me.
Even though I was emotionally exhausted, our friends decided to stay for dinner. We thought… what else could go wrong? We had no idea what was coming next.
After dinner, it was time to round-up the kids to go home. Debbie’s husband, Bob, went to put Katie (one of the triplets with autism) in the car. We all followed out to the garage to help carry their bags, etc. Finn, their other triplet with autism, was reading a favorite book on the couch, happy as a clam. Or so we thought…
Once Katie was safely strapped her in her car seat, we came back in the house to get Finn, but he was nowhere to be found. Finn had a habit of sneaking into people’s closets to go to sleep, so we all figured he was upstairs in a closet.
We searched every closet and did not find him. We started to get a little panicked. We sent one of the older children to the garage to watch Katie while we continued the search for Finn. In that timeframe, Katie had locked us out of the car, with the engine running!
We decided to “divide and conquer”. The dads focused on talking Katie into opening the car door. And the moms began the mad search for Finn. (Nolan was assigned to watch Brody). We were completely freaked out because we had ruled out the possibility that Finn was inside the house. We worried, maybe he had drowned in the pool or the pond that was behind our house.
The dads finally talked Katie into opening the car door. Her dad took off in the car to drive the field behind our house, shining the headlights so that he could look for Finn in the pitch black and rainy night.
My husband, Tom, and my oldest son were now running up and down our street, knocking on every door, and yelling at our neighbors to help look for Finn. I got on the phone to 911 and pleaded with them to hurry – there was a little boy with nonverbal autism who was lost. At that moment, my friend Debbie let out what I can only describe as a primal scream.
Inside, I wanted to throw up. I felt responsible because this had happened at my house. I was mad that I didn’t call the whole thing off after Brody had almost drowned. Why had we tempted fate? Despite my overwhelming guilt, I knew I had to keep it together for Debbie’s sake.
911 called us back and asked if Finn was wearing pink shorts, a flowered shirt, and was holding a book. That was our Finn! We got Finn’s location from the 911 operator and Tom and Bob jumped in the car and flew to the scene where they were met by an irate couple and a police officer. Finn had run all the way up our street (about a half a mile), crossed a busy two lane road, and almost made it to a major highway when the couple, sensing something was not right, stopped him.
The couple who found Finn was angry because they felt Bob and Debbie were irresponsible parents. They should have watched Finn more closely and they felt Finn should have had his name in his clothes or worn an identification bracelet due to his communication issues.
While we appreciated these strangers for keeping Finn safe, the last thing Bob needed, at that point, was to be scolded. We knew they were lashing out because they were afraid, but they unfairly judged Debbie and Bob. They had no idea what it’s like to deal with two children with autism 24/7 and how much effort it takes to keep them safe. Sometimes, when you’re out of your element and routine, unforeseen events occur.
We were all emotionally drained and knew this was a life changing event.
We were not careless parents. We were parents who were dealing with three children who have autism, attempting to enjoy Memorial Day like everyone else. We just wanted to relax, enjoy a peaceful day, and be “normal” for once. Perhaps we were guilty of letting our guard down.
That day, we learned parents who have children with autism simply don’t have the luxury of letting their guard down… EVER.