At a wooded campground. To the next neighborhood. Through the grocery store parking lot.
Maybe it’s easier for a mom of a special needs child to sound the alert, whether it’s begging other campers to help look for your child or enduring disapproving glares as you cut in line to talk to the grocery store manager.
Why easier? Because she knows that uttering THAT phrase – “my child has been diagnosed with autism” – invokes fear that the child is not capable of typical behavior. The runaway child may not turn to an adult to ask for help. She may not look at all worried that cars are scooting by her in the parking lot. She may not even wonder where her mommy is. In fact, she may be smiling because the wind is blowing in her face. Or repeating some movie lines that no one will understand except her mommy, who hears them a hundred times a day.
First to the campers: Thank you for hopping on your bikes and circling the campground until we found Anna. This was my first experience losing my child and your willingness to put down your wine coolers and leave the campfire warmed my heart. When I heard my husband yell from several campsites away that he had found Anna, my fear overflowed in the form of tears – angry, frustrated, grateful tears of joy.
To the kind, older couple I’ve never met who live in the next neighborhood: It must have been surprising to find a little girl sitting on your deck, watching your cat through the window. As I biked around … and around … and around our neighborhood, I barely saw your two heads, and then a little dark one, rise over the horizon as you walked her home. Again, tears.
To the well-meaning guy at Rainbow who called 9-1-1: I appreciate that you recognized that a little girl, unattended, should not be running between cars in the parking lot. I don’t appreciate that you mentioned the word “neglect” three times as we waited for the police to arrive. Yes, I really did turn my eyes away for just a second. And yes, there really was no reason for Anna to run away. And yes, I really am a good mom.