It happened in what felt like an instant. With family and friends visiting, we were all playing, laughing, chatting in the backyard. I think Brooke must have been maybe 4 years old. At that point we were a relatively newly diagnosed family. Jess and I were a bit overwhelmed by the sudden, almost complete opacity of our now uncertain future.
One moment we were all yucking it up, the kids running about, and the next moment it was, “where’s Brooke?”
The conversation stopped.
Someone asked the other children if they knew where Brooke was – blank stares.
Within seconds several of us were bolting to the other side of the house, which is where we found her, maybe 3 or 4 feet from the street, completely unaware of the dangers in front of her.
The next day I called a guy about putting in a fence, which we had in place within a week.
It could happen to anyone. As parents, we have all had that moment of panic, that moment of where’s my baby? 99.999% of the time, we find them, oblivious to the unintentional scare they have put us through.
Whether or not a child is autistic, if the stars line up just so, something like what happened to Mikaela Lynch and her family could happen to anyone. It happened again this weekend in South Florida where we lost a young boy to wandering and then drowning.
Some people have had the nerve to call into question the parenting skills of those kids’ mothers; that they should have been watching them at the time, as if they should have known that that was the moment. Last week I responded to some of those people by asking them to a) take some time to actually walk in the shoes of the parents they were bashing and b) remember that the First Amendment must be tempered by the Two (Yes, TWO!) Commandments.
A lot (A LOT!) of our kids are escape artists on a Houdini-like level. We can put up gates and locks and other barriers, and our kids, with their unique perception of the world around them, can see the invisible, gaping hole we have left for them to walk through. We can buckle ’em down in car seats six ways to Sunday, and they will still be able to squirm their way out like master contortionists.
Until we learn, or at least make a genuine effort, to see the world through the eyes of autistic people, our children will always see our own deficits as security experts.
Does that mean we need to watch our kids 24/7?
But I defy anyone who says they can or do.
Is there anyone who can honestly say they are capable of that? And if you think that you are capable of watching your child 24 hours a day, then do it after a week of daily meltdowns in public, less than 3 hours of sleep a night and hours of personally working as your child’s ABA therapist because you have to. If you don’t take a calculated moment to breath here and there, then at some point, you WILL break – it’s not a question of if, but when. Add to that the complete isolation from extended family and those once considered friends that many parents face and the parental duties become that much harder.
That’s why we take 30 seconds to pee in private or walk inside for less than a minute to sip a cold mug of coffee or step outside just to take a breath – those micro-breaks are what keep us from breaking, and 99.999% of the time nothing happens and the world keeps chugging along.
There should be no judging or bashing of Mikaela’s family, her mother Bari in particular.
Because it happens.
For so long society has brushed our kids and our families under the rug, into the closet so to speak. Organizations like Autism Speaks have raised national awareness of autism, but that awareness, that understanding is still rudimentary. Until society as a whole understands what it is many of our families go through on a monthly, weekly, daily, even hourly basis, they will continue to judge without compassion. In this age of social media and digital news/reporting/blogging, it is a lot easier to spread negative, unsubstantiated stories without taking a moment to think about the consequences (or the truth for that matter).
Our community is with you Bari – we will not judge you; we will not bash you. Mikaela could have been any of our kids; you could have been any of us; and when something happens to one of us, it happens to us all. We have nothing but love for you.