School is well under way for another school year and the teachers are finally settling down. I have found that each year I have had to address the issue of wandering or eloping children. Most of the students involved have autism. A 2012 study found that nearly half of children with autism spectrum disorder will wander away from a safe environment with more than half of those wandering into dangerous situations.
If you have ever lost a child, with a disability or not, for a moment or longer, you know the heart stopping feeling. You must catch your breath, senses and all available resources to find the child. I am pleased to report that all the children I have been involved with (or got to know after their eloping began) over the years have been found safe and unharmed. I praise God for their safe return!
There are some great resources to help prepare for such events and possibly prevent or slow down some escapes. The National Autism Association offers free materials for caregivers and first responders through their Big Red Safety Box http://nationalautismassociation.org/big-red-safety-box/
One of our students who has become a frequent fleer has warranted a tracking device so I was given the task of researching GPS systems for students. There are an amazing number of new devices available. First, we had to determine specific features for this student and I narrowed my recommendations down to this list of four devices:
Trax Play, AngelSense, GPS Guardian and PocketFinder
There are many others in a watch format but we determined that type would not work for this student. If he was tied to his smart phone like most teens we could have added an app like the one used by my friend and me when we took our road trip last year. My friend was afraid I might leave her at some point so she wanted her husband to know where he could locate her. That point almost happened in Nashville on the way home but we made up.
As I was researching all the different devices I realized that some type of device or app would probably work well for most teens. Some come with geofencing where parents can set up perimeters around geographic areas and if the child moves outside of the area a warning is sent to the parent. Great for those teens who are starting to drive.
Ernie and Debra met at the hospital on May 15th but it did not go as planned.There was a complication and the procedure had to be halted.Debra was released after a day with some incisions and was told she would need 6-8 weeks to heal before they could go forward.
“This is my command-be strong and courageous!Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”Joshua 1:9
Ernie didn’t let his fear of not being able to raise his young son show through.He shared these fears with his wife, Gina.There were so many things that he yearned to do with his family.He continued to hope and pray.He did more than that!
Four weeks later all were back at the same hospital – they knew it was on God’s timeline!This was Ernie and Gina’s 8th anniversary!The number eight in the Bible signifies Resurrection and Regeneration; it is the number of a new beginning.Eight is 7 (which itself signifies an end to something) plus 1.Eight is associated with the beginning of a new era or that of a new order.
As family and friends waited the long hours, Ernie’s mother began to hope again as news came that Debra had made it through the first part of the surgery and the transplant was moving forward.She held a young child of a friend and stated how after Ernie recovered that perhaps “Ernie and Gina might be able to have another child!”This wasn’t even a dream that had been hoped for until this miracle was set in motion!Ernie groaned at the idea as we told him his mother’s dream as he was coming out of the anesthesia!
The transplant was a success!Praise God!
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13
Debra did that as she took risks, not once but twice to give health and a new chance at life to Ernie.
One of the secrets as to why God has shown favor to Ernie and Debra is not only through their faith and love in this process but in the way they love others daily.On one pre-op visit Ernie encountered a family that appeared to be struggling. Ernie approached the family and asked if he could help them. The sight of the baby tugged at his heart because he too has a young son.
As Ernie and Debra made the pre-op visit together before the second transplant date, Ernie told Debra about the family he had previously encountered.He said he felt bad that he had not been able to help that family more.As they were leaving, they saw the family.The family was staying on the streets because the shelter in the area would not allow them to stay in the shelter during the day.The father told a story of how he had moved the family to the area for work and he had not been able to find what he had hoped for and they were struggling.Ernie asked if they could bless them.Ernie and Debra went to a store and bought several essential items for the family, especially for the baby and brought them back to the family.
Debra told of how hesitant another person she met in the same vicinity was to allow her to give a hug until Debra assured her it was okay and she was extending God’s love.This woman was so used to rejection that she didn’t know how to accept love from another human.(She didn’t know she was in the presence of one of God’s angels!)
“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”1 John 3:18
Ernie and Debra serve as a reminder that we are here to serve others and become a miracle to other people; if only by showing a little love.
Sharon became my favorite sister when she was born a few hours shy of my sixth birthday.This was about the same time I made the declaration I was going to become a teacher.As Sharon grew she could serenade the cows in the pasture with her beautiful voice and perfect pitch but no one could understand a word she spoke.When she was distressed, which seemed quite often due to not getting something she wanted, loud noises or who knew what, she would scream and cry.Fortunately she had five siblings who would come to her rescue.She had a way at an early age of gathering us around her.Sharon was diagnosed with a disability when she was five and our family learned to navigate the launching of special education programs in the schools thus my interest in this area of education was born.Sharon was later identified as having autism.Sharon learned to speak as she grew older and she enjoyed many things like church, dancing and listening to music, summer camp and going to concerts especially to see her favorite singer Neil Diamond.Sharon loved her nieces and nephews.Some have grown to become volunteers with people with disabilities or have chosen a career in the field.No doubt due to Sharon’s influence.
In her late thirties, Sharon was told she had Neurodegeneration with Brain Iron Accumulation, a rare disease.This is what ultimately led to Sharon’s early death a week before her 41st birthday.Throughout her life and valiant fight for life, our family rallied around Sharon and learned even more about love, courage and strength from this remarkable woman.
During this time period, as Sharon bravely clung to life, I learned about the Autism Tissue Program at an autism conference.My family and I knew that this was a program in which Sharon could leave her legacy as a way to contribute to the research of this complex condition. Sharon Haugen is listed on the Memories of Hope page.
Carolyn Hare and Jane Pickett with ATP, now Autism BrainNet, made the whole process easier during this difficult time.We would like to encourage others to consider the Autism BrainNet program https://autismbrainnet.org/ It is much easier to sign up for the program before a time when emotional decisions are being made.There are links on this website that will give the reader the latest information on the causes of autism and the implications for the future for those effected by this condition.
Sharon’s legacy lives on not only through the donation she made but more importantly through the imprint that she made on our lives.We have a better understanding and caring for people who are different and perhaps appreciate our own differences and gifts a little more.
Texas, and many other parts of the country are experiencing the erratic spring storms. My first blog addressed this and last night this was brought close to my family as tornadoes struck the town of Canton in which 2 of my sisters and their families live. I am grateful to God that my family was spared any harm and pray for the many who are confronting the effects that the storms left behind.
I spoke with one of my sisters as she was hunkering down in her safe place and the sirens were invading her serenity. She was already aware that the tornado had taken out some vehicles on the major freeway a short distance from her home. It was a couple hours later that I was able to reach my other sister to find out that she too was safe.
“I would hurry to my place of safety. It would be far away from the winds and storms I’m facing” Psalms 55:8 (NIRV)
It also reminded me how frightening it can be when you are sitting in that dark closet with nothing but your cell phone and the emergency sirens as your connection to the outside world. Of course, there is the connection to God through prayer that can bring you comfort. Prayer is the real life line.
“The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.” Psalms 29:11 (NLT)
“No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39 (NLT)
I have prepared visual supports to some people to serve as a reminder in times of distress and stress such as when heeding tornado warnings. Here is a sample that may serve as a support What To Do When I Am frightened
I first learned about autism my first year of teaching. At that time autism wasn’t recognized as a disability in the state of Texas. I had a student who stood out from the others in my special education classroom with his odd behaviors. I searched for answers on how to help this young student because none of my training had prepared me for such a student. As I searched for new knowledge I learned about a new breed of students with disabilities who were falling in a category of “autistic like”. The only written article on this puzzling condition at the time was in the Parade magazine. Further studies revealed that these children were identified as having childhood schizophrenia and the methods for teaching them were strategies used for teaching students with emotional disturbance so I took an advanced course of study to learn these new strategies.
As I gained more knowledge and experience in the field of autism I felt a familiarity with the increasing number of children I began to meet. As we later learned, my sister Sharon who had been diagnosed with mental retardation, was finally diagnosed with autism. I have spent most of my life and all my career surrounded by so many intriguing people with this puzzling condition called autism. It is true, if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. Like every other person you encounter, each person with autism is a unique individual with their own gifts, quirks and dreams for life.
My life has been so blessed by the many people with autism I have met and continue to grow through life with. As important as it is to make others aware about autism, it is equally important to help those with autism understand what autism is and how it affects them. One of my favorite books that I have shared to help bring about autism awareness for those with and without autism is Different Life Me by Jennifer Elder. I created this social narrative, What is Autism , for some of the self-advocates I have worked with to help them develop a better understanding of autism.
As a child growing up in California many years ago, the only encounters I had with tornadoes were with the annual viewing of The Wizard of Oz. It wasn’t until we moved to Texas in the mid 1970’s that my family learned how a thunderstorm and tornado siren could keep you up all night. My sister Sharon, who had autism, although she had not been diagnosed with it at the time, was extremely frightened of thunderstorms. We had never lived in a place with such storms. We were learning that the phrase, “everything is bigger in Texas” was true when it came to storms. We tried everything to console Sharon when those storms rolled through. Our standard phrase that seemed to help was, “the storm is going to Houston.” Sharon didn’t know where Houston was but she knew it wasn’t in Dallas. My dad was known for moving our family quite often, he was a rainbow chaser. Imagine the fear he created one day when he came home and announced that we were moving to Houston! Needless to say, we stayed in Dallas and I don’t believe my family ever drove to or through Houston with Sharon, even to go to the beach. The vacations to the beach involved a much longer trip to another Texas shoreline.
Now I know that 1) Sharon had autism and sensory issues 2) a visual tool could have helped her understand what was happening tornado alarm 3) noise cancelling headphones might have helped
I was thankful the day after Christmas 2015 that I could leave my safe place after the Texas storms had passed over my house with everything untouched. This was such an unusual time of year to have thunderstorms and tornadoes and many other people in surrounding communities did not fare as well as me. Out of gratitude and in honor of others I had the privilege of serving with an outreach team from my church, Elevate Life Church, to assist some of the survivors of those tornadoes. I learned so much in those two days of service. I wanted to pass along my take away from the survivors I met in hopes that others may be prepared for such surprising events that can happen in the blink of an eye. Tornado Survival Tips
I took the photos because we were in awe that in so much devastation we saw the power of the cross.
There was a cross and angel wings left hanging on the walls that caught our eye as we arrived.