The first time my son used a visit to a store as part of an independent coping plan, he was in Grade 5 and had recently started a new medication. I'd heard a bit of noise in his room but nothing alarming. Then I heard sounds that just didn't seem quite right. When I got up and checked, my son was nowhere to be found, his bedroom window was open, and his screen was torn. When I checked outside, there were footprints under his window; all the same size. He was eventually found at the local convenience store. The clerk there said he had come in, scooped up an armful of candy bars and very nonchalantly headed for the door. The clerk had stopped him, took the candy from him, and told that if he did that again he wouldn't be allowed back. According to the store clerk I spoke with later in the day, this was not the first time this scenario had played out.
One day when my son was in Gr. 8, a friend of mine called to say she'd seen my son leaving a convenience store by his school during school hours. She was concerned that he was wandering on his own. When I called the school, they were surprised to hear that he had left the school grounds. When they connected up with him, however, they found his pockets were full of penny candy; his resource teacher guesstimated approx. $8-$10 worth. They were very surprised that he had slipped away and returned that quickly before they'd realized he was gone. When the teacher took my son to the store to return the candy, apparently the store clerk was also very surprised to see the amount of candy he'd been able to take without anyone realizing. (It reminded me of the time I once had a teacher tell me, "I couldn't believe it! He took the gum right out of my desk drawer while I was sitting right there!")
Another day in Gr. 8, I got a phonecall from the school saying my son was missing. His school staff were out looking for him, and I called some friends and went out looking for him. After visiting all his usual "pitstops" where he had historically gone to stock up on candy (hair salon, video shop, grocery store, convenience stores, etc) and not finding him, I called the police then decided to ask around at the local coffee shop. While at the coffee shop, the school called. They'd found him. He'd been curled up in a stairwell at the Jr. High. I met up with them to find my son looking very sleepy and not in good shape. Apparently another student on his bus had told him there were "really cool snow hills" at the local high school, so my son had run off from the jr. high to check them out. He said that while he was at the high school, some of the kids had pushed him down and that he felt sleepy so he had gone back to the jr high. He was later treated for frostbite on his leg from having/keeping snow in his boot throughout his adventure.
One beautiful Sunday morning at home last year (the same gr. 8 year), my son woke up and said, "I'll be right back, I'm just taking something" to the local thrift store. I checked what he was taking and said I'd see him in a bit then I went back to making breakfast. After awhile, I realized he'd usually be back already so I went to have a look. He was nowhere to be seen. I called a couple friends and the police, and we went out looking. He was eventually found crouched down between two buildings. There was what appeared to be chocolate around his mouth. He said he had "taken off" because he was hungry. I asked him if it wouldn't have been easier to just come home for breakfast or to just open the fridge and grab an apple or something to take with him when he went to the thrift shop. I later learned from a friend that he had gone to the video rental store and slipped out with candy, so I took him there to talk with the staff and make a repayment plan.
Back when my son was in the early years of grade school, he was home alone with my daughters while I was volunteering in another city. On my way home, I got a call from one of my daughters saying my son was missing. He'd thought it would be funny to hide on my daughters at one point and had sat very quietly in the back of a closet while his sisters and their friends looked for him and called him. By the time they'd found him, they were quite scared and upset, and had told him so; next thing they knew, he was gone. I called the police, and by the time I got home, they'd had a call from someone living a couple blocks from our place. A young boy had shown up at their house, barefoot and in pyjamas. He had asked if he could use their washroom and they'd let him in. After using their washroom, he'd asked if he could have a snack. They'd given him a granola bar. He'd asked for another. If I recall correctly, it was when he'd requested the third that the husband had told his wife to hold off. They contacted the local police, the police picked up my son and brought him home, and the couple and I connected by phone. The husband immediately said he knew something was up when he kept asking for more granola bars. I don't remember if the couple have fostered children or if the husband's family had fostered children, but he said something told him there was just something not ringing right with how my son was acting. At that point, my son had not yet been diagnosed with autism. His diagnoses at that time were attachment disorder, adhd, possibly schizoid personality disorder, developmental coordination disorder, and he was being assessed for possible prader-willi syndrome. He came home, appeared quite calm and quite unconcerned about the whole event except to tell me that he didn't like that his sisters "got mad" at him, and calmly went to bed.
This blog was initially set up as a means of communicating with my son's team. Since then, I've heard from other parents with similar stories. If you are living with challenges or journeying alongside someone who is, you are not alone. There are many of us. I'm a single adoptive Mom (http://richesofsimplicity.blogspot.com/) of a young man who lives with many abilities and many diagnoses. We have journeyed together through many challenges and a few adventures over the years as my son has tried to find space in this world that makes him feel more comfortable, an attempt made especially difficult when living with Attachment Disorder, PDD-NOS (Autism), Developmental Coordination Disorder, ADHD, prenatal substance exposure, etc. Some of the strongest elements used in this journey have been music, visual arts, therapeutic parenting, team-connection, boundary-setting, boundary-setting, boundary-setting, communication skills, community-building, continual lifeskills training, and elements of Theraplay. (Click here for some written resources.) On this journey, there is laughter and tears and growth and hope. The greatest of these is hope.