Last night I had the opportunity to speak at a charity event for an inner city youth program here in my local area. It was an honor to be invited. I shared the stage with some truly beautiful individuals.
I began the evening with a slight bit of angst. Just after getting ready for the dinner, I received a call that my son was “missing”. Those are words no parent wants to hear, right?
So, let me take you back a few steps and explain. My son is about to hit 14 years old. He has a high IQ and Autism Spectrum Disorder. For this reason, we have chosen NOT to have him ride on the bus alone. Not because he is incapable, but, because sometimes he makes choices that sometimes difficult for me to understand.
That said, yesterday, I was getting ready. I had my simple black dress, pearls, and high heels on when my husband called to ask me if I knew where my son was. My husband was picking him up that day and I had requested that my son wait for him just in front of the school. Regardless, my heart hit the ground that very moment.
Trying not to panic, I asked my husband to check each of the three buildings that sit on the property where my son goes to school. In all there is a middle school, a technology building, and a high school. This is not a small area. He now has the school searching and the worry is moving from my heart to my head. I knew we needed a plan and we needed one quickly.
My husband begins searching again and I proceed out the door – ready to call the police. Foot on the gas – tears in my eyes – I asked my husband for two things:
- Check the park next to the school.
- Stop telling me all the possible things that could go wrong.
Just as I turned the car down a major intersection near my son’s school, I heard my husband say, “He is standing on the bleachers looking at me.”
I can honestly say that I felt both anger and relief. As soon as my son was near the phone I demanded to speak to him and I yelled, cried, and apologized all at the same time – thanking God the entire way.
I went to my event – without my speech (I left it in the house when I went screeching towards the school). It was so difficult to formulate great thoughts knowing what happened just before. As I took the stage I realized that this was exactly where I needed to be. Because of circumstances, some poor child did not have the support of parents or loved ones (like my son did).
I found myself imagining what could have happened if my son was alone and left to fend for himself – what if there was no one there to realize he was missing? I think it was that thought alone that pushed me to continue to speak when all I really wanted to do was to come home and hold him in my arms (which I did – as soon as I walked in the door).
My son truly thought that he was going to a place where we could see him better – some place high where we could spot him. He acknowledged passing adults who could help him. He viewed them as busy and did not want to interrupt (we have been teaching him interruption is rude). He chose not to use the phone because he had not been given permission. I think the odd thing about these types of disabilities is that I can fully understand the logic behind his responses as I realize how much work I have to do to help him navigate the world. My son was trying to comply with social norms that are confusing. Just as the students I was speaking for are trying to cope with situations that are confusing, potentially debilitating, and completely out of their own control (just like my sons ASD is out of his control).
I write this today to tell you to speak of for, support, and be an advocate for children who cannot help themselves – even those with families that love them. Don’t just sit on the sidelines. In a blink a life can change – be the change agent.