Over the weekend, I hosted a party honoring my darling daughter's graduation from university. It was a lovely event, with family and friends from near and far coming together to celebrate. Over the years, Jumper Girl has been blessed with a number of caregivers, with whom we are happily still in touch. Many of them were at the party.
Of course we were telling stories. One story was the time that Jumper Girl, age about 2, escaped from our secure back yard, when my back was turned for just a minute. At that time, we were putting jingle bells on her shoes, because she had developed the vexing habit of running away and hiding, especially in the house. At the time of this story, we were outside, and I think I had bent over to pull a weed or something. When I looked up, she was nowhere in sight, and the gate, which I swore she couldn't open, stood ajar. Worse yet, her be-jingled shoes, which I believed she was incapable of removing on her own, were lying in the middle of the lawn.
I think every parent, if they were honest with themselves, has had such moments with their children. You know, the ones where the child demonstrates some new skill in such a way that places the child at risk, if not outright danger.
This last week has been a particularly haunting one in that respect for the autism community. On May 12, 2012, nine-year-old Mikaela Lynch managed to get out of her secure back yard and vanished. She was found dead in a nearby creek on May 15. On May 19, eight-year-old Owen Black somehow slipped out the beach condo where his family was staying and was later found drowned in Perdido Key. Age of Autism is reporting that a third child, Drew Howell, also slipped out of his parent's house and was found within minutes. Sadly, Drew had drowned.
Mikaela and Owen were autistic, non-speaking, and by all reports, had the obliviousness to danger that some autistic children exhibit. The thing about autism though, is that many autistics exhibit developmental delay. Pay attention: delay. Skills do develop, only on a different timetable than expected. Parents and caregivers can be taken by surprise by a sudden jump in skills.
A friend of mine who has a child, Frank*, much like Mikaela and Owen, told me a story a while ago. Their backyard was they thought doubly secure, with locking features that Frank couldn't reach, and that were beyond (they thought) his fine motor skills. One fine day, while his mother wasn't looking, he reached over and handily undid the latch. What had happened? Oh, all the work his PT and OT had been doing on gross and fine motor skills paid off. He had learned to balance on tiptoe, and had mastered the snap lock. Fortunately, his mother heard the gate open and had caught up with Frank before he got into any danger.
While the search for Mikaela was going on, many of my friends who are parents of autistic children -- some like Mikaela and Owen, others who have more of a sense of danger and less likelyhood to wander off -- wrote again and again about their own close calls with a child escaping, despite extreme care and hypervigilance.
While Mikaela was missing, there were some who said said vile things about the Lynch family.
One of the autism parent bloggers decided that must not stand, and organized a blog drive for today, "An Outpouring of Love for the Mikaela Lynch Family". You can peruse a list of posts at http://www.blenza.com/linkies/links.php?owner=sunday75&postid=19May2013.
My heart aches for each family -- the Lynches, the Blacks, and the Howells. Each of those children had teachers and helpers and therapists who also are suffering. To lose a child.... The pain is unspeakable. To those who loved Mikaela, Owen, and Drew, I am so, so sorry for your losses.
There is a website honoring Mikaela's memory, http://mlvillage.org/
We are a community of Mikaela’s family and close friends that are dedicated to the life and love of Mikaela Lynch. This wonderful girl has touched so many lives around the globe. It is our intent to continue to spread the love that Mikaela shared liberally. We hope to have your help in our mission.
The local paper, the Lake County News, reported that
The site includes a donation link. One of the child’s teachers, Alyssa Winn, reported that Mikaela’s family currently is choosing a foundation – likely one benefiting children with autism – in order to make a donation in her name.
Oh, the end of the Jumper Girl story? We were lucky. I went around the west side of the house, but she had gone around the east side. Just as she got to the driveway, one of the caregivers arrived and apprehended her. We upgraded the escape prevention that day, and now it is one of those family stories....that families tell each other for fun, but also as a reminder. It could have been my child.
Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gate_ajar.jpg