Neighborhood Outreach

Monday, September 12, 2011

After reading yet another heartbreaking story of an autistic child wandering off and dying, I realized it was time to do something about Bear's recently increased attempts to break out.

(Q: How do you know you have an autistic eloper?
A: You seriously start wondering if a retina scan door lock might be enough to keep 'em in the house.)

We had another close call a few day ago, when he slipped out the (so tricky to open we hadn't worried about it much) garage service door.  Thankfully, in the minute or two it took me to notice he wasn't in the room any more he got distracted by his Big Wheel and a crisis was averted.

And then there was a couple of weeks ago, when he decided he was going to the park wearing nothing but a charming pair of Thomas underpants.  Luckily I was right there to intervene (read: throw him over my shoulder and carry him back in screaming) because it was one of his deeper neurological "nobody's home" spells, and he was completely unresponsive to my voice.

I read a post several months ago by an autism mom whose young son had eloped, and she realized as she frantically searched the neighborhood that she didn't really know any of her neighbors and when she asked them to help her look, they didn't fully grasp the seriousness of the situation. (Kicking myself for not being able to find the post to backlink.)

Thankfully that story had a happy ending, and even though we didn't have an autism diagnosis yet I understood I was in a similar situation and took two lessons from this mom who is clearly more experienced than I:

1) Teach Bear to respond to "Say "here I am!"" because he doesn't always respond to his name (it works surprisingly well and has stopped several 'omg where did he go' heart attacks in progress)

2) Talk to my neighbors

I realized that Trick or Treating next month is the perfect opportunity to chat with a number of neighbors all at once.  But I also realized that just talking about it wasn't enough, I needed to give them something concrete.  Something that answers the sincere question "what can I do to help?"

Which brings me to this...

I used one of the free postcard templates at the online printing resource to create it.  It's fast, easy and quite affordable.  (Try for more savings, I got an enormous discount that way).

The plan is to hand deliver these to specific neighbors when I take Bear Trick or Treating.  We are being quite selective about who gets them because, obviously, they're full of our private contact information.

I think this will be an effective strategy for us because we happen to be blessed with a good number of friendly neighbors (most of whom are either police officers, parents of young children or both) that we feel we can trust.

I'm very interested in hearing what you think about this plan, and if any of the more experienced moms have other ideas for me to try?  We've already taken to heart the suggestion to information the local police department that he's an elopement risk and will be doing that soon.


The cards were a huge hit!  The neighbors were warm and receptive, and several expressed gratitude at having concrete direction on what to do in case they did see something that concerned them. 

I should note it is important to practice your 10 second spiel before you go out trick or treating with the cards.  The world being what it is, people were very guarded when they saw me with something in my hand, the obvious assumption being I was selling something. I learned not to pull the card out of my pocket until the last second, because then instead of it being the thing that made them defensive it became the answer to the question they were about to ask.

Yes, it's a serious topic, but I kept it light and friendly and quick.  Some of them asked questions and that was great, but I didn't want to be a buzzkill so it was also perfect to have a 3 year old tugging at my arm to go ring the next doorbell. 

Here's more or less how it went:

"Hi! I'm Michelle and this is Bear, we live right over there (*point*).  Bear has autism, and you might know that a lot of kids on the spectrum wander off and get lost.  We wanted to let our neighbors know if they see him out alone to please call us right away - here's a card with our contact info.  Happy Halloween KThxBye..."

If you have an eloper, I think the potentially huge benefits of making these cards is definitely worth the small cost and moderate effort.


Now there's a step by step tutorial with links to free templates:
Neighborhood Outreach Part 2: Wandering Awareness Cards Tutorial


This is my pin of this post on my Autism Visual Aids & Resources Pinterest board.