Wandering and Autism is an important issue within the Autism Community. Being a parent and Autism advocate I am constantly on the guard about preventing Niam from wandering. I have written blogs on Autism and Wandering, providing expert tips for parents, and have even created Free Social Stories on the subject at www.able2learn.com. It is important for me to take note, I am not immune to Autism and Wandering, no matter how much advice I give or precautions I take for my son.
This past Saturday, Niam and I stopped off at Home Depot to shop on our way to his paint studio on Birchmount Road. Niam loves to explore Home Depot to buy different tools with various textures for his paintings, always looking for something unique and different like himself. Niam was ahead of me while I slowly pushed the shopping cart. I like to give him independence and time to process the sensory stimuli from his surroundings while keeping him in sight.
It did not occur to me something could go wrong, as a Autism parent you are always doing what you think is best, capitalizing every opportunity as a learning experience. In hindsight, I probably could have been more careful. I won't lie "guilt" can be such a strong and overwhelming emotion eating you up faster than you can blink an eye.
Before I Knew It Niam Had Wandered Off.
He was no where in sight. Worry had not crept in on me just yet. I leisurely checked the isles where I know he could have headed. I could not find my son Niam. The store is very large and at times overwhelming. I quickened my pace , ran outside to check if he had left the store. The idea of Niam being in a parking lot full of cars scares me more than I want to imagine. He may not stop in front of a car. He may walk behind a car pulling out. The nightmare thoughts are endless.
I found a Home Depot staff, and told him I had lost my 14 year old son who has Autism. He was quick to find the manager, security and within a few minutes all doors were covered to ensure my son did not leave the store. There was no hesitation by the staff, they worked quickly and efficiently securing doors while getting more information about Niam from me. It was very professional. His picture was shown to staff members. All kinds of negative thoughts were running through my head. I went back outside to check the parking lot and walked to my car in case he made his way there. I scanned the parking lot, and even checked inside of cars as they were leaving the parking lot. I know it sounds crazy but I admit the thought of Niam with a "not nice stranger" did cross my mind.
If you are an Autism Parent you know a Child with a developmental disability can be an easy target.
There was no Niam in sight. I ran back inside the store.
By this time I was holding back my tears.
I checked with staff and security. All doors were secured and a sweep of Home Depot was taking place. That is when a staff came running up to me. I was informed he was located and the same staff member I had initially spoken to about loosing Niam was tailing him from behind, keeping him in sight, but kept his distance to not frighten him. I was impressed by the staff who realized there can be persons with Autism who can be easily frightened and may not like touch. The compassion and understanding is what made my heart fill with emotion. Another staff member came to my side, and said to me "Don't worry. I understand. I have a child with Down Syndrome" At times like these, kind and understanding words can go a long way. Instead of judging me , he lent a hand, encouragement and some kinds words.
When Niam saw me, he embraced me with a very long hug. He was alone, scared and, I realized he wasn't wandering without purpose, he was alone, scared and looking for me. For the rest of our shopping experience, Niam held onto my arm. As I walked by staff and security they all smiled reassuringly. It was a nice feeling and beautiful outcome to what could easily have been a different situation.
I can say without a doubt, this is a store we will always come back too, not only for their great response team and training, but Niam relies on "secret" tools from Home Depot to create his paintings. A store we cannot live without for many reasons.
I want to say Thank You To an amazing staff at Home Depot.
To management and executives, great training programming and customer service. Autism and Wandering is a real life issue for many parents. Autism and Wandering can be a scary experience and, sometimes leads to tragedies. If this post reaches you, please let the team know at the Ellesmere Location just how wonderful they all are and what a difference they made in our lives. #autismandwandering
Niam Jain's Autism Artist Mom.