“Autism Parents Don’t Sleep. We Just Worry with Our Eyes Closed.”

Parker Barry
By Toby Price, Guest Writer

I love that quote because it is so true. I wanted to share a story that could help give families a better perspective of what life is like for families who have kids with autism.

Almost 3 years ago, we received a phone call at one am from a police officer. He asked us if we had a little red haired girl. My heart immediately sank into my feet. Addison, my oldest daughter with autism, had left the house in the middle of the night.  My wife and I panicked. We jumped straight out of the bed and went to Addy’s room.  When we got to her room, we had found her door lock and door alarm dismantled on the floor.  Next, we ran to the door to meet the police. In our driveway was our worst fear, the lights of four police cars an ambulance, and a fire truck.

Since Addison was little, she was often prone to wandering. We had taken every precaution available to prevent that from happening. We had window alarms, locks on the doors; we even had a motion light installed in our hallway. That night; none of those precautions helped.

When we met the policemen, he explained to us that a neighbor down the street had gotten up to let their dogs out and saw Addy walking down the road. They knew something was “wrong” with her and that she shouldn’t be out. They tried to get Addy to stop and come inside but she panicked and took off running.

When the police found Addy, they assumed that she was either sick or that she had gotten into some medication that was causing her odd behaviors.  Kids with autism often have trouble communicating. Autism is a neurological disorder that effects 1 in 50 kids. Kids with autism may have trouble talking, looking people in the eye, and can get upset by loud noises or bright lights. Because of Addison’s autism she is mostly non-verbal. At that time she had less than ten words that she could use appropriately. She wasn’t telling the police anything because she couldn’t.

One of the officers noticed that Addison had an iPhone in her hand. She was walking down the street playing a game on her IOS device. He was able to convince her to let him hold it. He scrolled through the contacts and began calling numbers until he found us.  He told me that Addison was safe. Before he could give her back to us, he had to come and make sure that the house was safe.  One of the EMTs knew Addison. His mom was an assistant in Addison’s special needs class. He informed the police that she had autism. They called Addison’s doctors at UMC to confirm that she had autism. The UMC doctors knew Addison well and recommended that she be returned to us as soon as possible.

Sadly, kids with autism wander all the time. We were lucky and blessed that Addison came back to us. Since this story she has wandered two more times.  Each time she was seeking out water. Each time we were lucky enough to find her. She has not wandered in over a year. She is about to turn eleven now. Her favorite activities include swimming and playing on her iPad.

Addison iPad

My wife and I wanted to find the positive in this story and we found it in a big way.  Since Addison took her iOS device with her that night we knew that she was fond of it. When you have a child with autism take an interest in something, as a parent,  you have to run with it. We started working one on one with Addison each night on her iPad to help her learn to use the device to communicate.  Now she uses her iPad to show us things she wants, or places she would like to go. She uses it to practice handwriting and even counting. However, it’s not just used for work. I could guide her through an app but I started to watch and wonder what would she play when I wasn’t working with her.  I started to watch and see what Addison would play on her own.  She would often pull out her iPad and immediately open Toca Boca’s Toca Hair Salon. She enjoyed cutting the characters hair and drying it with the dryer. I noticed that the apps are easy for her to just open, and then begin playing. She loves cooking in Toca Kitchen and making music with Toca Band.  The TOCA BOCA apps even started to carry over into what both of my kids with autism could do on their own.  One afternoon my son and Addison had setup up their own Tea Party on the dining room table. As a parent we are happy that we have a found a way to engage our kids with iPads. We are also grateful for apps like the ones from Toca Boca that entertain and teach our kids at the same time.

Addison Playing Toca Boca Christmas Hair Salon ( ONE OF HER FAVORITES) on her iPad.

About the author:

Toby Price is a special needs dad and Assistant Principal at Richland Upper Elementary in Richland Mississippi. He has been married for 12 years to his wife Leah.  He has 3 wonderful kids Addison, McKade, and Marley Kate.

He can be found online at about.me/jedipadmaster
You can follow him on twitter @jedipadmaster