Ellie is a runner.
Ever since she could walk, we have had to keep a very close watch on her when we are out of the house. She doesn’t like to hold hands and will not walk nicely alongside of us like her sister does. If allowed any bit of freedom at a store, she will quickly scoot off into another aisle, or across the store, or find a stranger’s legs to hug. I have had to catch her on the threshold of Target, before she toddled into the busy parking lot.
Ellie has no sense of danger, physical or stranger. Anyone who smiles at her is a friend, and she will happily climb up in their lap or follow them out of the park. Cars, swings, strange dogs…none of them scare her. This makes doing things like going to the playground or walking three blocks up the street nerve wracking to say the least.
To foil Ellie’s penchant for wandering, we generally keep her contained when out in public. At stores, she sits in the cart. At the park I wear her in my toddler Beco. For trips to the mall I break out the stroller even though she’s getting too big for it. She doesn’t always appreciate being strapped in, but at least we don’t have to chase her while dragging Laurel along behind us. All in all, containment has worked for us up until now.
Last week we went to a Memorial Day picnic. There were lots of friends and family, and the girls had a bunch of other kids to play with. Even with the girls’ food issues (Ellie is now gluten AND dairy free), there was lots for everyone to eat. Ellie discovered the joys of watermelon. All in all it was a great day.
At the end of the day I went inside to pack up our stuff. I was in the house for no more than two minutes when someone ran inside and asked if Ellie was with me. My heart froze as I told them that no, she was not. I ran into the backyard, up the walk, and through the open gate to the front of the house. I looked, but I didn’t see Ellie anywhere. Calming down, I was turning to go search the backyard when another guest yelled, “There she is!”
Ellie was two blocks away, calmly walking down the middle of the street towards an intersection.
I have not run that fast in my entire life.
I called her name. I yelled for her to stop, to freeze. She didn’t even look back at me. She just kept walking towards the end of the street.
Finally, she turned and looked at me, stopping in the middle of the road. I tried to get her to come to me, but she didn’t understand, so I ran to her and scooped her up.
I have never been that scared in my life. The image of her, wandering down the road, is burned into my mind. I keep imagining what could have happened. I see a car flying around the corner and tossing her little body into the sky. I see her broken on the ground. I imagine what would have happened if I had searched the backyard first, if she had two, three, four more minutes alone. I think about how far she could have gotten, how lost she would have been. When and where would she have been when she realized that she couldn’t find me? Would some good samaritan have stopped her, asked her for her name, just to find that she can barely talk? How long until the police would have shown up to help us search? What if we never found her?
It doesn’t matter that none of that actually happened, what matters is that it could happen again. We are constantly watching Ellie when we aren’t home. But it happened once and it could happen again. She disappeared from a yard full of adults. Chev thought she was in the house with me. I thought she would be safe with all of those eyes on her for a few minutes. No matter how faithfully we practice constant vigilance there is that chance that she could slip away. And I can’t handle it.
The day after the picnic I started searching the web for tips, tricks, and products to help keep Ellie safe. From squeaky shoes and child trackers to complicated locks and child leashes, I could probably now hold educational lectures on the topic of child elopement. We have decided on a new pair of squeaky shoes, since she really liked those when she was younger, and a Tile tracker, which doesn’t have GPS, but I really like the features it does have.
We have also decided that Ellie needs more help than we can give her, so we are applying for a service dog.
If you thought that service dogs were only for the blind or people in wheelchairs, you would be mistaken. Dogs are now trained for everything from sniffing out peanuts for kids with severe allergies to providing the gentle nudge that a child with OCD needs to break a behavior cycle. The dogs we are most interested in, however, are those which are trained for kids with Autism. These dogs are trained to be tethered to their charges and to plant themselves on the ground, unmoving, to prevent them from wandering away. They are also trained to use their sense of smell to find their kids if they do get lost. The dogs can be trained to provide comfort and support to children, like Ellie, who cannot self-soothe when they get upset. If a child is constantly waking up at night and can’t fall back asleep without a parent with them, a service dog can be trained to sleep with them, taking the place of the parent, like a fuzzy security blanket. Or if a child wakes up at night and wanders (another trait that Ellie has developed), the dog can alert the parents that s/he is out of bed. They can provide support for kids with balance issues, or who need help navigating stairs and uneven ground. There are so many things that service dogs can be trained to do!
I am currently in the process of getting referrals filled out by two of Ellie’s therapists, and I’m meeting with her pediatrician on Wednesday to talk about her recent behavior and get the doctor’s paperwork filled out. Then I’ll be mailing it all to 4 Paws for Ability in Ohio. We are really excited about this new journey we are hoping to embark on. (em-bark…see what I did there?) I promise to keep you, my lovely followers, updated on our progress.
Until then, is it ok if I just never let Ellie out of the house again?