“Folks, We’ve Got a Runner”
I turned from my toddler just in time to see Cameron take off out the back door of the school. I was beside myself and could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body. The words “remain calm,” ran through my mind like a broken record and I was grasping at anything to keep from losing it. I quickly passed my toddler off to the teacher who asked if she should call the police and I took off. I turned my head and give a swift nod hoping she got my message but not looking back to be sure. I had just arrived at the school 5 minutes earlier after receiving an urgent message from Cameron’s teacher that there would be no education going on today and that I needed to just come and take Cameron home.
I could see it in his eyes when I entered the classroom. This was a fight or flight moment and his body had already chosen flight. His eyes were darting back and forth between my and the door and his body had a restless twitch. We had been here before, this urgency to run with panic filled eyes. I approached him cautiously trying to let the calmness of my body tell him he was ok. But he couldn’t hear it… and now, I was chasing my son through the forest in the back of the school and I knew that I had no chance of catching him.
By now, tears were streaming down my face as I frantically called to Cameron while at the same time sobbed into the phone trying to explain to my husband what was happening. I couldn’t get the words out. My husband darted for the door of his office while trying to figure out what was going on and help me to calm down. It was no use! I saw Cameron run out of the woods and dart down the sidewalk in front of the school. He was headed for a major 4 lane highway that was filled with cars and try as I might, I could not get the images out of my head of what was about to happen. As Cameron neared the end of the sidewalk, a few feet away from the main road, I saw a car pull over to the side of the road and an older lady stepped out. I have no idea why but Cameron stopped running to look at her. She began to talk to him while slowly inching her way closer so as not to startle him and continued her conversation until I caught up. Oh my Heavens and can’t even begin to explain the emotions that played through my mind as I grasped his arm tightly, thanked the lady profusely, and headed back to the school just as the police car, followed by my husbands little red truck, rounded the corner.
I was angry, sad, mad, frustrated, and grateful all at the same time. I couldn’t even talk to Cameron because I had no words for him. As we made our way back to the school, he looked up at me completely bewildered as to what was going on. All he said was, “mom, why are you crying?” These emotions became my friends for many years while my son continued to run and run and run. I felt them when we lost him in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City, Utah while attending a family reunion. He was surrounded by 50+ people and we still lost him. I felt this way when unbeknownst to me, he crawled out of the play place at the mall because he wanted to see the coin operated cars. I felt this way when he ran out the front door and hid in a hole in the wall in the garage, when he hid under his bed, crawled onto the roof, ran into the neighbors garage, and countless other scenarios.
For Cameron it was almost always a fight or flight scenario and always it left him with no awareness of his surroundings or the possible dangers there. But that is not always the case. For some on the spectrum, they run because of the sensory stimulus. Others wander off because they get sidetracked without even realizing they are gone. There countless reasons why but hopefully these options below can help others to have a little but more peace about their little runners!
What have you found to be helpful to maintain safety, lessen the need to run, or to deal with the sensory needs?