We arrived in Saigon, Vietnam Wednesday to visit our lifelong friends, the Knoblochs and Lewis’s. The Lewis family lives in Saigon and suggested we all go on a Vespa tour of the city; a 5-hour experience starting at 6:00 p.m touring the city on the back of Vespas, tasting local delicacies, and exploring the nightlife.
We all immediately jumped on the opportunity. We knew it would be an experience none of us would likely ever forget.
It wasn’t until we were zipping along the highway all on separate motorcycles and I had no idea where Braden actually was, when I had this thought, “Did I really just put my non-verbal autistic son on the back of Vespa in Saigon? What if we lose him?”
Momentary moment of panic. Stomach drop…Instant regret.
And then I felt a touch on my shoulder. It was Braden’s Vespa driver, a young Vietnamese man, Kwao (I’m sure I’ve spelled that wrong). He pointed to Braden sitting contentedly on the back of his scooter, smile wide, a light in his eyes of happiness, of independence.
It’s not often that Braden gets to do things on his own. We have a constant worry that we will lose him. Braden cannot communicate well enough to express that he is lost. And what if gets lost in a foreign city? Honestly, it makes my brain hurt to even consider it all.
We have lost Braden…
More than once…
At church, at school, in our apartment complex.
At school in Shanghai, I lost Braden at one of Mike’s volleyball games. Mike was coaching and I took my eyes off Braden for no more than 5 seconds to watch the game-ending play, and when I turned back, he was gone. Gone. Nowhere to be found. I looked for over 10 minutes and couldn’t find him. I ran to find Mike and he got his entire volleyball team to help look. Over 20 people were spread out around the school calling for Braden…no answer. We ran to the guards in the school and showed them Braden’s picture. We had people explain in Mandarin that they should no allow the boy to leave campus. We think they understood.
Finally, I heard the words, “Mrs. Boll, we found him!” Braden had gotten into an elevator. The elevator didn’t work without pushing in a code, but the doors had closed. So there was no way of knowing that someone was actually in there.
Let’s just say, it was more than frightening. I remember breaking down into tears afterward. I was so mad at myself for taking my eyes off of him and so very relieved that he was okay. The fear compounded by the fact we are in another country. Can we call the police to help? When people ask Braden his name and all he can say is “Braden,” what would they do? How would he ever find us again?
Mike’s step-brother Steve wrote a screenplay about a boy with autism who gets separated from his family on a Shanghai subway. He asked Madison to direct and the film Cacophony was born. The story is beautiful as it shows how memories make an imprint, and how one can always find his way home. I hope that if we ever find ourselves in such a situation, this happy ending will become our reality.
Mike and I have tried so many things to try and help us in a situation such as this. We have made Braden ID bracelets (he has lost them all). We created ID necklaces that we put on his shoes (they’ve fallen off). So what do we do?
I recently found a non-profit on Twitter called If I Need Help (www.ifineedhelp.org). It is a registry and has live wearable ID. Your loved one (with autism, can wear a patch or shoe tags with QR codes. If someone finds a lost individual they can scan the QR code and it will have all of the emergency information on there including who to contact, etc.
My question is this: If you were to find a non-verbal individual in a situation where he/she was lost, would you a) Recognize that the person has special needs b) Look for a QR code or other identification, and c) Understand that the QR code has meaning and know what to do?
I hope this blog and other campaigns can help raise awareness as to what to look for when you find a non-verbal individual. I also hope that each person reading this will understand that you can single-handedly help and reunite a family by recognizing how to help and knowing what to look for.
When I started this blog post I realized that were many directions I could go with it. I could have focused on the sensory input Braden received from the scooter ride (such happiness as he cruised along the city streets giving him that proprioceptive input he desperately craves). I could have talked about the kindness of his Vespa driver and how he just seemed to “get” Braden and understood that he needed extra care (it was so sweet to watch him take Braden’s hand and lead him across streets, etc.). I could have discussed traveling and exploring with a child with autism. But as I started writing, it was really the fear of losing Braden that came to me. The fear is so great and the helplessness of it all is mind-numbing.
I’m happy that we don’t let this fear stop us from seeing the world, from experiencing new and exciting things. I’m elated that Braden seems to enjoy the experiences as much as we do. And thankfully, he doesn’t fear anything.