There has been a lot of news coverage of the little girl that wandered away in an instant and was found drowned in a nearby creek. This scares me to the center as my son is a wanderer. He gets distracted, and he’s gone. He has ADHD, and we have been informed that he will always have this tendency. We are fortunate in that he has a pretty good sense of danger and can tell people who he is and who we are, but it still terrifies me every time.

He has even gone so far as to hide and think it is funny. I think that is the only time I have ever spanked my child. Even though he is older, we never leave him alone at home, because we cannot guarantee that he will stay there, we have to set rules EVERY time we go out to a store, movie or anywhere, and remind him constantly whenever we are out. It is hard. When I was his age, I was responsible enough to care for my siblings and myself, now, with all the “bad guys” out there, it isn’t a question of whether or not he can be left alone. He can’t.

I have also worked with many children that run or wander away. It is difficult for teachers to keep track of all the kids, especially after school. A good friend of mine had her child “lost” for 2 hours before anyone noticed he was missing. He was supposed to go to an after school program, but decided to leave instead. He was finally found when he wandered into a hair salon and asked for a drink and they called the police. He was only 5.

My really good friend is regularly woken up by kind neighbors who have found her son out and about in the neighborhood. He can get past any lock, and is unable to tell people where he lives. He has just lived in the neighborhood long enough that they all know where he goes. Even my own niece has managed to get out the door and wander off to friends. My son and our foster child had a method where they would hold each other up to open the locks on the door. Safety locks slowed them down enough for me to catch them, but there is nothing that beats constant supervision, and yet, as our children age, we cannot always watch them; especially if we work, or have other children to care for.

My thoughts on this matter are two-fold. Aware.org has a program for families and first responders for children that wander. It is a great program, and I encourage every parent to be aware of the program and the key components.

Secondly, we cannot blame or punish the parents. The loss of a child is a grief beyond compare. To know that it was a matter of seconds that made the difference is even worse. We all know moments of frustration when we have to step away for our own sanity. There are also moments when we think our children are safely in bed, or playing with a sibling or friend, and we can finally relax. Being the mother of a special needs child is never easy. It is exhausting. They wake up at odd hours, my son sleepwalks. They are constantly in need of something, and our resources are stretched thin even on good days.

My heart goes out to the families of wanderers and the panic and stress that it causes. There are solutions – safety fencing, family helpers, emergency contingency plans, search and rescue dogs, and many others. However, no matter how many safety precautions we take, or how diligent and careful we are, we cannot protect our children all the time. Tragedy happens even with neurotypical children, how do we teach our children with their curiosity, and lack of understanding of certain situations to be careful?

I know I will be making sure my son knows how to swim, but we live in a desert and his greatest danger is that he crosses streets without even looking. I pray for his safety, as I believe in God, and I trust that whatever happens is His will, and that is small comfort during those terrifying moments when he cannot be found. My spouse is a firm believer in the power of community, and so I hope that we can form communities that will support and help each other. That will not point fingers or place blame, but will strive to create a safer world for all children. Hopefully someday my son will learn to at least tell me where he is going, but until then, my heart will continue to stop each time I can’t see him nearby, and I will have to have constant diligence. These events just make that responsibility even more real to me, and I hope I have the strength and fortitude to teach him safety and independence, because eventually I will have to let him go, and hope that he can handle life on his own.

Photo: Instant Vantage/Flickr