Throughout the month of April, in honor of Autism Awareness Month, Maureen Bordelon has shared some guest blog posts from her website and blog, My Autism Hat Rack. On this journey as parents of children with autism, we do have to learn to wear many new hats. In this post, Maureen writes about wearing a running sweatband to chase (and keep safe) her little runner. As this is a common and frightening issue many families face, I I hope find Maureen's post - with details about what worked in their home - interesting and helpful! ~Leigh
The "Runner Sweatband"- Only Green Lights Here!
By Maureen Bordelon
I gave birth to Jonathan when I was 34 years young and as most new Mamas, I wanted to lose the “baby” weight. Of course, it was the bagel sandwiches, Tex-Mex and stuffed jalapenos that put on the “baby” weight - not really the baby, but it sounds better - right? Little did I know, I would drop the baby weight when Jonathan started walking…correction running at 14 months old.
Yep - we had a Runner! This might sound “advanced, cool, active” to most people, but if you have a child on the spectrum – RUNNING was a very scary “characteristic” of autism in our home.
The “Runner Sweatband” is the Hat a parent wears to kick in those quick reflexes to break into Bionic Woman/Million Dollar Man speed because your child has learned to run the 50 yard dash in under 10 seconds. The dash ends at the unknown finish line of dangers.
When Jonathan was 11 months old, he started walking…fast. Within months he was running from room to room. This still hasn’t stopped and he is 11 1/2. The good news is - he understands dangers, rules, boundaries now but for the first 6 years of his life - HE DID NOT.
Most ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) kids do not understand: circumstances, dangers, emotions, and other “instinctive” ways of thinking as readily as other kids. ASD kids, most times, have to be taught that running into traffic is a scary, dangerous thing - I believe Jonathan just saw the adventure in it all. He loved fast-moving objects, bright colors, and he loved running free from any confinement he felt.
Many dangers for a child, start with a run and being out of reach from a parental, lifeline grasp:
• A car is coming - STOP! – the car can’t see you!
• A pond of water – Don’t jump in you can’t swim yet!
• The front door of your house - Who forgot to lock it? Jonathan got out and is down the street running thorough the neighbors sprinklers - and it is 6:00 am!
When I went to the grocery store, he would wiggle out of the belted seat of the shopping cart better than Houdini; jump with no fear from the cart edge and if I wasn’t catching him mid-air, he grew these amazingly long arms for a toddler that could reach a glass bottle of dressing or pyramid display of packaged cookies, and in no time, the next thing I knew…”Clean up on aisle 6″.
And I couldn’t help with the clean up because Jonathan had scaled the back side of the shopping cart and was running to a designated area of the store as fast as his little legs could take him. Seriously, the grocery store video footage could have been featured on America’s Funniest Home Videos every week.
But having a Runner wasn’t funny. It was scary and if he didn’t get to his determined destination, a “scream-fest” would follow with no means of consoling.
So what did we do?
• We installed key-access deadbolts on all our entry doors of the house.
• We would carefully schedule an outing where there were no ponds, lakes or streams available for a plunge.
• We would carry Jonathan everywhere and we had a jogger stroller for years.
• We did not go to Malls, movies, restaurants, grocery stores as a family for YEARS - we always tried to split it up.
These were exhausting, difficult years. We did multiple therapies to help build “understanding” for Jonathan with ABA, Pecs, Social Skills Therapy, Sensory Integration Therapy, Preschool, OT, ST, and bio med approaches – all of which played a part of helping him understand our world a little better.
The common elements that helped Jonathan understand dangers and boundaries were Rules & Structure.
For example: Running was not dangerous to Jonathan - it was fun, he needed to bust the energy from his body and running and jumping did that for him…SO - we came up with a running and jumping schedule that was purposeful. Instead of eliminating the running, I would take Jonathan to a fenced-in playground and let him run, jump, swing for an allotted time and then take him home - always giving him a 5 minute heads up when it was time to go.
We stopped using Negative words; ie: No!, Stop! Don’t! etc…and replaced them with positive/productive directions like:
• “Jonathan! Run to that swing.” This way he knew we were talking to him and we told him to do something fun.
• “Jonathan, Can you put these veggies, apples, etc - into the shopping cart for Mama?” This gave him control of doing something besides sitting in the cart and watching me shop.
• “Jonathan, see the cars run on the big street? Mama, Papa, Gregory, Danielle and Jonathan all run on the sidewalk.” This was huge! Jman understood cars and saw them zoom by, then saw the difference in the sidewalk from the road. When I itemized everyone in our family that he was connected to, he could filter the “Rules and Structure” which in years to follow help generalize groups of people and things and eventually help create the concept of Reason.
If you have a Runner - my heart and SOLE(S) are with you…but it gets better. Make the running purposeful for your child, create a structured environment where they can run safely and they will comply more and more. Consequences did not work well for our Jman so when I started to see his world in the literal sense that he saw it - I could teach our son Rules and Structure which helped us slow our Runner down.
FYI – A company that has a tracking product that has been proven to help with ASD kids is EmFinders. I personally have not used them, but their website has information you may find useful.
Maureen is a mother to three beautiful children: Gregory (17), Danielle (13) and Jonathan (11). Jonathan was officially diagnosed with severe Autism at the age of 16 months and has been home schooled since March 2010. Maureen has been active in the Autism Community since 2002 by helping create local parent support groups, advocating for parents in local school districts, organizing and speaking at Autism Events/Seminars and she has testified on behalf of Autism Education in front of the Texas State Legislation. Maureen is creating a pathway of hope to support the Autism Community and adding to her “My Autism Hat Rack” everyday.