11 January, 2007

The Wanderer

According to my family, the first incident for me was at about 30 months of age. My parents were out and had left us with a babysitter for the afternoon/evening. Somehow I managed to leave the house and walk 3 blocks to the near by elementary school. Once there, I found an open classroom where a PTA meeting happened to be going on. After some franticness, I was returned home later that evening with the help of the local police department and many concerned parents.

That was the first sign to my parents that I was a wanderer. As I grew up, the question of “Where is Brian?” was repeated over and over. There were the numerous times that I disappeared in a busy mall, or wandered away from home, only to be found at a neighbor’s house. I never really thought about letting someone know where I was going, as the idea that they would worry when they couldn’t find me was a foreign concept. I knew where I was going and that I was safe so, by proxy, they knew that as well.

I never did outgrow the desire to wander. As an adult, I have developed the capacity to understand why people became so concerned. That is probably the only reason I don’t wander to this day. Every once in a while, however, I will take a day for me to go do those things that I need to do to pacify the wanderer in my.

Connor’s first sign of being a wanderer was at about 20 months. One fun day he managed to defeat the deadbolt on the screen door and started on a journey. When my wife caught up to him, he had already made it around the corner and was heading along the sidewalk of a rather busy street. After bringing Connor back to the house, my wife set about trying to figure out where he was heading. With a little bit of creative parenting, we finally determined that Connor was going to Disneyland. He was obsessed with Disneyland at the time.

Learning from this first incident, we started to pay close attention to where Connor was at all times and also to how we could secure the area to prevent his escape. Less than a month later we were attending a birthday party in my Great Aunt’s back yard, our attention waned for just long enough… and Connor escaped again. His absence was noticed almost immediately and “Where is Connor?” was on everyone’s lips. I suspected that he had left the “controlled” area and checked the driveway. That is when I spotted him. Connor was in the street and a car had just come to a stop… less then 1 foot from hitting him. I dashed into the street and scooped him up in my arms, trembling with fear.

When we moved into our new home in Stockton, we were very concerned with him wandering off again. Our home security system had the option of announcing when ever a door was opened… so we set that feature to at least offer us warning. Even with this in place, Connor wandered. After a few months in the new home, Connor went out the front door and down the street… heading for Disneyland again. We added security to our house, in the form of a swing latch bolt on the front door. To this day, that seems to have curtailed his leaving the house.

The one incident that really opened our eyes and helped us to tye the wandering to Autism came in January of 2004 when we took a trip to Disneyland to have fun in the “Happiest Place on Earth”. This was nothing unusual, as we (my wife and I) had been making trips there since before the children were ever born and we usually made 2 or more trips a year as a family. Remembering that Connor is a wanderer, my wife and I have always been careful to keep close tabs on him when we are in such a crowded place as Disneyland. Unfortunately, it only takes a moment for him to disappear. That moment came while we, as a family, were enjoying looking at the funny hats at the front store of Disney’s California Adventure. Connor and Aiden were trying on different hats and being all around silly. I looked away for a moment to tell my wife something and when I looked back, I saw two boys with silly hats on… unfortunately, only one of the boys was mine. Connor was off! “Where is Connor?” Those words once again started to tumble from our lips as we searched the store and the immediate area around it, trying desperately to find him. Leaving the store, I glanced towards the front gate and realized where Connor had gone. I rushed through the turnstile and found Connor half way across the walkway to Disneyland. Yes, once again Connor was heading to Disneyland and actually stood a very good chance of making it there this time.

After the incident, my wife and I reflected upon all the times he had wandered off. It was finally starting to click with all of the reading I had done over the previous six months on Autism. It was only two months later that Connor was officially diagnosed.

Unfortunately, this is not one of my blog entries where I am able to offer a great nugget of advice, a strong opinion, or other useful bit. To this day we are still trying to find new and creative ways to keep Connor from wandering off. With his latest obsession being the Pokemon Center in New York City… we are frightened that he will end up on a plane or bus traveling there. For now, all we can do is keep our eyes open and continue to defeat his attempts to wander off.

It is tough having a wanderer.