If you’ve ever chased a 2-year-old, you know the drill. Your toddler runs ahead of you, stops for a moment to look back and see how well you are catching up before she’s off to the races again. You are exasperated, but you have a longer stride. You’ll catch up eventually.
If your toddler has autism, you won’t get that look back. I devoted an entire chapter of See Sam Run to the chase and detailed the two other terrifying instances when Sam decided to go for walks on his own.
We were lucky there were only the two. When I hear stories in the news of a child wandering, that’s the first thing that comes to my mind — parents struggling with a child with autism. I always wonder if law enforcement and child protective services have it “top of mind,” too.
Sam started “wandering” again when he was 14. He would take his bike out for long rides. But, in this case, it really was quite a normal thing to do, a boy stretching his boundaries, learning how big the world really was, exploring.
One day, he noticed window damage to a home being built down the street and got off his bike to investigate. Unfortunately, he did that in front of a police officer, and when he was approached, he got scared. He hopped on his bike and raced home, the officer following him.
We were lucky that day that we happened to come home just a few minutes after Sam was chased home. He was pacing in the garage, talking to himself, as the officer was trying to talk to him.
It took some time to remove the cloud of suspicion that was over Sam’s head — because, of course, every parent says, “there’s just no way my child would do such a thing,” just before they learn that was exactly what their child did.
Sam didn’t do it. But he never rode bike anymore after that, which Mark and I considered a real tragedy. We coaxed and cajoled, to no avail.
Fourteen years of riding bike, whether in a trailer behind his parents, or around the patio with a trike, or down the sidewalk with training wheels.
He hasn’t pedaled since.