Saturday, July 02, 2011

Autism and Wandering: Fredericton in 2003 and Abbotsford in 2011

The story of the autistic child in Abbotsford, Brisith Columbia (1,2) removed from her home with her caring father by provincial government officials has hit a nerve with many parents of autistic children including me.  In Abbotsford the girl was removed after she wandered from her family home.  She was found, at a neighbor's safe and sound. Despite the efforts the father had taken to prevent such occurrences and despite his diligence in searching for her and contacting authorities when he realized she was missing, the child was taken from the family home and placed in government "care" by government officials.  

I agree with the teacher who commented on this case and emphasized that autistic children need stability.  Removing them from their home can be a harmful event in itself. Maybe there are other facts, not disclosed in the local news reports, that prompted the removal of this child.  In the absence of any further information though it seems clear that government officials did not act in the best interests of this autistic child in taking her from her home.

I have mentioned in commenting on the Abbotsford story that my son had also wandered from our home on a day when I was the sole adult in our house and while I was answering a business phone call.   I was thankful beyond belief that my son did not come to harm when he "got away" many years ago.   I am also thankful that authorities here in Fredericton, New Brunswick did not react in 2003 as the authorities have reacted  in Abbotsford, British Columbia  in 2011.   Following is the comment I first posted in September 2006 about the time, three years earlier, when my son left our home while I was distracted by a business phone call:

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Vigilance, Constant Vigilance

A recent tragedy in Toronto has revived some terrifying memories for me. A 12 year old autistic boy fell to his death from the 16th floor of a Toronto highrise in early May while under the supervision of a caregiver who resided at that location and who has now been charged with criminal negligence causing death. The case has prompted calls from the Autism Society Canada for national standards for caregivers working with autistic persons.

I know from personal experience the challenges of caring for autistic children and the need for constant vigilance. Three years ago I was home alone on a Saturday with my then seven year old profoundly autistic son when I took a business call on my phone. I had gotten into the habit of taking such calls while listening for my son's whereabouts. This time I got too involved in the call.

When I hung up I could not find my son. I ran frantically around the house and the yard before calling 911. I was informed that he was safe at the nearby Ultramar. He had attempted to cross a busy neighborhood street oblivious to the dangers posed by traffic. A good Samaritan had stopped and helped him into the Ultramar from where I picked him up. The man was still there, waiting to ensure my son was safe, when I arrived but at that point he turned and left without waiting for recognition, reward, or expressions of gratitude.
In my entire life I had never felt such fear, guilt, relief and gratitude. The impact of these intense feelings in one short span of time was difficult to absorb. I can literally still feel them now as I type, three years later. The lessons learned will never be forgotten.

As a lawyer I would not pre-judge the caregiver in the Toronto case - or the outcome of that case. As a parent who has "been there" I know that it is all too easy, unless we want our autistic children to live imprisoned in "safe" environments, for the unthinkable to occur. There is no training that can absolutely guarantee our childrens' safety. But, to improve the odds and reduce the incidents of tragedy, there should be minimum national training standards for those who provide care for autistic persons - parents included.

No comments: