The turtle or the hare? Well…it depends on the age. Then? Definitely the hare. Watch for these children – if a child in your neighborhood is on the spectrum, keep an extra eye out. If you know a child at your church or school is on the spectrum, keep an extra eye out in the parking lot. If you take a child (who happens to be on the spectrum) somewhere without their parents, pay attention. PAY ATTENTION. I went so far as requesting a sign on our street (when we lived in a residential area). The city resisted because of the ‘liability’ – but it sure would be nice for communities to push for this, just to increase awareness.
Children who are on the spectrum move quickly, often without thinking. Tucker used to be this child. He would run into the street. Run through a parking lot. Run through Target. Trust me, these parents DO care. These parents ARE paying attention. PLEASE do not give them ‘the look,’ most of us are doing the very best that we can – but we are so often overwhelmed. Honestly, you can’t pay enough attention to children (especially when young) with autism. While this is true of all of our children – any of us could ‘lose’ our children in a moment – but the danger is heightened with these children.
I think the ‘issue’ is three-fold.
First, they are often so focused on the task at hand that they don’t see danger. If the task is playing basketball and the basketball rolls into the street they are ONLY focused on retrieving the ball.
Second, they are in sensory overload. Especially when they are young and haven’t learned coping strategies yet. So, the second they get overwhelmed they may just run. Run to get away, run to deal, run to focus on running, run because they are so overwhelmed.
Finally, they often have no comprehension at what dangers exist. Many of these children simply don’t understand danger. At this age they are spending most of their time trying to figure out how to live in the world…they are not thinking about stranger danger much less being hit by a vehicle.
I also think this is why Tucker turned into a Hare. I made him too afraid. He used to dart across parking lots. I would be right beside him, talking, thinking we were safe. In a split second he was running. Not even towards the car – just running. I finally would just hold on to him. We read social stories of him begin kidnapped to prevent him running through Target. I was constantly talking about the danger, about not taking risks…which led to the turtle.
There has been a significant amount of growth and interest in Autism (and research) during the past few years. One benefit of this is people reaching out and helping families who have a child on the spectrum. I have been lucky enough to befriend a family that trains service dogs for children with autism. I know, it seems like a strange combination – how would a service dog help a child with Autism?
In so many ways. From Retrieving Freedom’s website (http://retrievingfreedom.org/autism/), ”
- Tracking will be taught to these dogs so that they can find a child in any location where they have become separated from their parents.
- Tethering: A tether is attached to the dog’s service vest and the belt of a child. These dogs are trained to sit any time the child forcefully pulls on the tether.
- Snuggle: Dogs learn to comfort the child in times of panic and high anxiety.
- Retrieving on command is huge for these kids, since it is an activity that they can constructively do with their new companion.
While Tucker learned coping strategies before we knew about this opportunity, I for one, can immediately recognize how this can help a child on the spectrum. We welcomed a puppy in May and he and this dog have a very special relationship – the dog LOVES to snuggle Tucker. Somehow White Sox (the dog) knows. I don’t know how…but somehow the dog knows.
The dog runs at me. The dog walks beside Tucker.
The dog nips at his sister. The dog sits at his feet.
The dog jumps on furniture. The dog snuggles beside Tucker.
The dog runs circles around my feet when I’m trying to walk. The dog DRIVES ME CRAZY.
Regardless, the dog wins…
For more information about Retrieving Freedom, contact:
1148 230th Street
Waverly, IA 50677