Ever since we received the diagnosis about Stone’s autism, I’ve thrown myself headfirst into research mode, reading as much as I can about treatment options, parenting strategies and news related to autism. Unfortunately, the news surrounding autism is not always very good. For awhile I had my Google News Alerts set with Autism as a keyword and I would receive updates from around the world. But frankly, it just became too depressing and heartbreaking to read every day. I learned of one child in Canada with autism who wandered from his farm and drowned and another child in the Seattle area who left his home at night and later was struck and killed by a car while wandering along a busy highway. The more I read, the more I understood that in addition to the developmental challenges we faced with Stone, we also had a huge safety issue to consider. It only added to the the stress level. I was going to write a lot more about the issue of wandering as I’ve been meaning to cover it for some time now, but then I came across this article on CNN.com that does an excellent job of covering the issue. Interestingly, it was written/posted earlier this week, so this is obviously a timely topic. It is written from a broad standpoint, and as I read it I was struck by the fact that even the issue of wandering is very complicated with controversial aspects — as is nearly every other aspect of autism. But here’s one fact included in the article that I think would shock most people: Wandering is considered to be the leading cause of death among children with autism. “In the U.S., at least eight children who have autism, ages 3 to 8, died after wandering in 2010, according to the National Autism Association. In February of this year, two children with autism drowned, the organization said.” This fact simply terrifies me when it comes to Stone. To date, he hasn’t shown signs of being a big wanderer like other kids featured in the article. But a lot of that has to do with lack of opportunity too. We live on a “double dead end” street so we are not close to busy streets (or pools) fortunately. When Stone was younger he liked to run away and I would often have to chase him down the street. But this was as much of a game as it was a real attempt by him to get away. And there have been a couple of occasions during the summer when he popped out a screen window on our first floor and climbed out (once when he was being watched by relatives). Fortunately he didn’t wander – he was just happy to have “escaped” and was enjoying his freedom in our front yard. But obviously the results could have been very bad. My biggest concern for Stone is that he could find himself in trouble around water. Like many other kids, he loves water and is naturally drawn to it. So I’m obsessed with making sure he at least knows how to swim and can get himself out of trouble if he ever finds himself in it. He had one swim lesson last summer with Renee and I and he liked the water and did OK for a first lesson. But we had to miss quite a few lessons due to sickness, schedule conflicts, etc. so he didn’t get a lot of swim time. I’m excited that this week he’ll begin private swim lessons through our local YMCA. Not only will this be a great step to ensure his safety but I also think that as he learns how to really swim, t it can become an activity he’ll enjoy and provide another outlet and option for him. And while I know we’ll never completely stop worrying about him and his potential wandering, this will at least put our minds to rest — a little bit.
David Kaufer is a fun-loving Super Dad of 5-year-old twin sons, an insane Oregon Ducks fanatic (follow him on Twitter @DavidKaufer), advocate for green/sustainability and autism issues, and connoisseur of Northwest microbrews. He and his wife Renee moved to Edmonds in 2005 to raise their family (and enjoy the gorgeous views).