autism, autism awareness, Autism Speaks, autistic children, behavior, board of education, children with special needs, daycare centers, family, Jersey City, New Jersey, philanthropic work, schools, special needs kids, Walk Now for Autism, working moms, writers
Yesterday, I experienced one of the worst gut-wrenching feelings any parent could ever endure. I received a frantic call from my husband who was at my three year old son’s after school program. My heart immediately dropped when he blurted the words: “they lost him. The man watching the class said he ran down the hall and now they don’t know where he is.”
In that moment I felt empty and did the only thing that I could do from home: pray. I felt helpless and could only pray and hope that he was o.k. Maybe he was in another classroom laughing and / or slamming a door not too far away waiting to peek his head out to see if anyone was on his trail. For the past month this has been his compulsion – running, escaping, and all the while laughing as he darts like a roadrunner from the classroom. He doesn’t have the slightest clue or understand the fatigued look on the caregiver’s face each time they have to chase behind him. He wants to play and his “escape mechanism” is all a game for him. Luckily he has been in good hands at his school and morning program – that is until yesterday.
As a former educator and caregiver I truly empathize with teachers who have to deal with difficult children as well as the plight of those great teachers who are laid off due to funding cuts. However, I am shocked when an adult chooses to take on a job of watching children and is neglectful. The caregiver who was responsible for watching my son was neither remorseful nor apologetic when informing my husband that my son was missing. Where was the sense of urgency when a 3-year-old autistic boy went missing in the school in which he attends? How long had he been missing? No one seemed to know he was gone until my husband became hysterical upon entering the classroom and being told that his son simply “ran down the hallway.”
After what seemed like an eternity my son appeared in the hallway – no one knows where he surfaced or which room he came from. But he was safe, unharmed, and of course smiling.
I cannot tell you how many thoughts run through a parent’s head or how many emotions sift within the moment of knowing your child is potentially lost. As a matter of fact, I would never wish that on any parent, as I am sure just reading this incites a certain sense of fear. What I can say is that my three-year-old son who lacks verbal communication and is completely unaware of the dangers in the world was lost for nearly 10 minutes…or more, while in the presence of an educator. Despite my son’s disability and the stress that comes with it, there is level of responsibility that I expect the people I pay for care to uphold.
I expect more from the Board of Education when I am entrusting them to hire people that will help build our leaders of tomorrow – not give up on them.
If I may leave one positive parting message, please support the Light It Up Blue initiative on April 2nd in honor of further autism research.