It’s a parent’s worst nightmare to have his or her child wander off and be out of sight.
The panic and helplessness that sets in is unbearable, and for parents of autistic children, it is even more common and dangerous. That is exactly what happened to Daisy Chappell’s mother when she found her 10-year-old, autistic daughter, Daisy, outside in the freezing cold on January 2nd. Thankfully, Daisy is now recovering in a local hospital after a bout with frostbite.
According to a study done by the Journal of Pediatrics, almost half of autistic children will try to run away by the time they are four years of age. Jennifer Smith, the mother of two autistic young men who are now in their twenties, wanted Daisy Chappell’s mother to know she is not alone. Smith reached out to the Chappell family when she heard of the story through a news alert on her phone and wanted to share her stories and advice with the Chappell’s.
Smith, who has slept on her couch for the past 7 years to ensure her sons cannot escape her home, also has locks, sirens, and a dog to help keep her boys in the house. But despite her best efforts, her sons have escaped and wandered out of the home quite a few times.
“They’re smart. They are so smart. One time I watched as Cameron picked up the chair, dragged it to the front door and undid the locks,” Smith states.
Although she still worries about her sons to this day, Smith has decided to proactively devote her time to the Autism Society of the Heartland in the Kansas City Metro. There, families of autistic children are provided with swimming lessons, grants for home security systems, and even training for parents.
Another organization aimed at helping families of autistic children remain safe is the Autistic Training Center of Kansas City. There, children aged 2 to 12 work with an instructor on many different aspects, one of which is the hazards of wandering.
“Our number one recommendation for families is to teach safety skills, and this should be taught to all children. This can be anything from when to open a door, not to go around large bodies of water, or stranger danger skills,” said Jenny Regan, the communications director at the Autistic Training Center of Kansas City.
Mara Papaleo, Cleveland State University