When you have a non verbal child, one great fear is of them being on their own, separated from us, in unfamiliar surroundings and not being able to communicate. The few times Jacob has left without my knowledge, have seared a fear in me that I haven’t forgotten. And, I still shudder at the ‘what-ifs’.
The first time he walked out of our home alone he was 8 years old. He decided to head down the street. I suppose just to enjoy the neighborhood scenery. We quickly found him not far away and knew immediately that installing keyed dead bolts that he could not open, would be necessary.
The second scare came when we were on vacation with family. Jacob was 10. Part of our group had gone downstairs, some to the pool and others headed to the beach. My sister-in-law and I remained in the condo with Jacob to join them later. As I walked out of the bedroom, I saw the condo door wide open and ran to look down the hall. Both ways – Jacob was not in sight. He had disappeared and a pool was nearby. Panic set in! Hurrying down the stairs, calling his name afraid of what I might or might not find. Got to the pool and there was Jacob standing beside it just watching everyone play.
By then, we realized the importance of identification on Jacob and ordered a ID bracelet for him with our contact info. He wore it for years but when it got to where he could undo the clasp, and had outgrown the size, I’m ashamed to say we became lax. Those two scares had made us diligent to have doors locked that he couldn’t open. Plus we always communicated in the school/day services setting that he might leave a building if left unattended. He wasn’t what some would call a ‘runner’ – dashing out every time he saw an open door. The times he ventured out alone seemed to be curiosity driven.
The third scare came years later. It was 2010 and we were in Alabama babysitting our young granddaughter (and 2 grand dogs). I placed a phone call to a friend, who was dog sitting for us in our home, speaking to her for several minutes. When I returned to the living area, the front door was ajar. Jacob and both pugs were no where to be seen. It was late enough in the evening that the sun had set. So we had darkness going against us.
Even though our granddaughter was sound asleep in her crib, I didn’t feel like we could both venture far at all. Imagine the distress! And ALL of the things running through my mind. Every scenario was bleak. Even if Jacob could hear us calling his name, he couldn’t respond. Would an understanding soul find him and realize he needed help? What if one of the dogs got hit by a car. How would I explain that? He appeared to be a functioning (maybe a tad tipsy) adult, would he be ignored to wonder alone into the main road or the lake? Would Jacob just open a door and walk into another home? If so, would he be harmed because home owners thought he was dangerous? Which way did he go? Walk along the street either direction? Cut through yards between homes? We were in a neighborhood we had only been in a few times and certainly didn’t know a single neighbor. I did not have a picture of Jacob with me to even show someone my missing child. Imagine the terror. Imagine the panic. Imagine the adrenaline rush.
Thankfully, this post has a happy ending! YAY!! The dogs were together exploring very close to their home and were easy to corral. Mike found Jacob two houses down on the front porch of an occupied home. All the homes on the streets were off the ground with many steps leading up to the front door. So there was not a lot to see street level, except stairs and shrubbery, making it harder to look quickly. Jacob had carefully gone down the stairs to leave the house and up the stairs a few doors down just looking around. It felt like hours but truthfully it was only a few minutes.
Believe me, that night the ‘what-ifs’ were terrifying. I could not sleep. I was so afraid that Jacob’s escapade excited him enough that he might try for another adventure. As soon as we got home, a new Medic Alert bracelet was ordered and he’s worn one ever since. I also printed flyers for our street and distributed to each home. They included a photo of Jacob, an explanation of his behavior, and our contact info. Now, I also keep a flyer in my car if the need ever arises.
Time after time I’ve been keenly aware of God’s protection over Jacob. My heart overflows with gratitude that the Lord of all the universe puts angels around us. Just think – we are in the presence of angels and they are here for our good! Thank you Lord!