Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Just answer your name... please!

People often comment these days how fast Munchkin responds to her name... this wasn't always the case. As with the majority of children on the autism spectrum, this was one of the first red flags that was raised with her. You could call and call her name to no response. I tried changing the tone and the pitch of my voice to grab her attention... zilch. I may as well have been talking to the kitchen wall (which I must admit, has had a fair bit of one way conversation over the years!)

I spent countless hours, days and weeks trying to teach my little girl her name, and to respond to it. All the usual tricks and lessons were tried... mirrors, photographs, videos etc and slowly she started to respond on occasion. Every night, our routine after dressing for bed, washing teeth and saying goodnight to her brother and sister we would stand in front of the bathroom mirror and I would say "Who's that?... Its Mummy"... and "Who's that?... Its Charlie." This was repeated every time we passed a mirror, or even just a shiny reflection in a window and I'm sure that I attracted strange looks from passersbys at times. Like so many other things I was trying to teach her, an opportunity to teach missed was an opportunity lost. Life was a series of prompts and knowing when to fade them out!

The day that sticks in my memory as a pivotal turning point, and making me realise that answering to her name was top of my priority list was the day she made my heart pound with terrorising fear. As with many children, my daughter is a descendant of Houdini... There is little that can contain her if she decides to escape. On many occasions, she has managed to give me the slip at home and I will find her testing windows and doors. From a very early age, she would scope a room as soon as we entered it, mentally clocking up the escape routes! Our home is typical of many families I know where it is under lockdown constantly. Doors and windows must be locked at all times, and I have constructed a "safe zone" at the rear of the house where there is a combination lock on the back gate so that I can at least boil a kettle without keeping her within my sights. I still don't trust her for a second as when she's a little older, she'll be up and over that fence before you can blink!

The day in question however, we were visiting a friend and her son. She also has a "safe area" at the back of her house as it's just been built, the acre of land its on has not been landscaped and backs out onto a main road. Her fences are slightly lower than mine so I was mindful of being on higher alert than usual. We locked the doors to all the rooms, only leaving the sitting room, a bedroom, the kitchen and play area accessible... The two kids were happily pottering around and keeping themselves occupied. Every few minutes we would check to make sure that they were ok and that Munchkin wasn't eating anything odd, like the charcoal from their fireplace...

I sat drinking a coffee and realised it was very quiet in the sitting room so went to check the kids. My friends son was sitting quietly watching television, but there was no sign of Munchkin. I checked the bedroom but she wasn't there. Out to the play area and once again it was empty. I started to get that panicky feeling in my chest. I ran back inside and started calling her name again.. over and over... My friend was searching in the bedroom, under the bed, in the wardrobe calling out constantly. I started shouting her name and checked the sitting room once again.. She was GONE!! Outside we ran, abandoning my friends newborn son on the kitchen floor tearing through the overgrown garden shouting, the fear evident in both our voices now. She ran down the lane towards the main road, while I headed to the back of the brush and the little gap in the hedgerow where cars were whizzing past. There was no sign of her at all. Tears were flowing now and it was all out panic stations. My mind went where no mothers mind should ever go and I ran back into the house, ready to call the Gardai (police). We did one more check of the house shouting frantically her name and there was no sound at all. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move in the corner of the sitting room.... I ran over and pulled the lid off this little plastic crate, barely big enough for a cat and there she was, all squashed in with the lid pulled over. I cried and shook with relief that she was safe and unharmed but I'll be honest, the shock of that day will stay with me for many years to come. THAT was the day that answering to her name became my primary focus.

Nowadays, as soon as I say her name, she replies quickly and firmly "yes!"

I have thought of this day a lot over the last week, especially in light of the story of Aisling Symes, the little angel whos parents have to deal with the overwhelming loss of their daughter. My thoughts are with them xxx


Anonymous said...

scariest moments of our lives that will haunt us forever was when AJ escaped out front door when he was two. crossed busy roundabout and was found and picked up by a concerned stranger at a bus stop waiting to go down to see the trains. the screaming panicking woman running accross roundabout gave her clues as to whos child he was. i didnt sleep for weeks

great blog

Jean said...

Petunia, my heart was in my mouth reading your post...I've been there a handful of times myself and the depth of fear is hard to quantify.
You explained in very real terms why it is so important to teach our kids to respond to their names...sometimes I forget WHY I'm repeating the same lessons so often that i want to scream...it's really good to get a beautifully written reminder.
Many thanks hun XXX

Lisamaree said...

Boo was 2 when went to a drop in creche for a few hours while we went to the bank to try and get a home loan. When we picked him up the creche staff said "he won't come when we call him"

I went away thinking that calling him Boo was the problem, whereas the creche staff used his real name. But no, it was just the first red flag on a long road.

We can never let our guards down, we can never relax. That is just the facts of it.

You have done well to bring Munchkin to the point where she can respond to her name, that can take Years! well done missus. xx

Anonymous said...

great blog as usual, Kyle has improved greatly he chooses when not to answer NOW. He tells me sometimes he just needs to be on his own. I have spent so long this past year working on him understanding his emotions I am viewing this as a positive step.can get frustrating though. Breda

Elaine Caul said...

Great post! I know exactly how scary it can be when young kids go missing. When Daniel was 6, he grabbed his scooter and snuck out of the house. My uncle seen him a few minutes later scooting down the motorway, just 5 mins from our house. He grabbed Daniel, shoved him into his car and brought him home. I dread to think what would have happened.. At least he never snuck out of the house again! Thank god! xxx

Patsyperdu said...

We are going through a tough phase at the moment of trying to make safe the entire house, just when we finally think we have it secure, the little escape artist will find another route. It was terrifying reading about your fear and panic, but it has also told me that we are not alone with this constant monitoring and watching.

We just have to put in extra effort to keep our little ones safe. We need to be their safety catch!

Clive said...

Remember well living in Brussels nine years ago when our little man was diagnosed - that the place you want your child to disappear from in the local playground, I can tell you!

Great post.

jazzygal said...

Oh Petunia....my heart was in my mouth reading this too!
WiiBoy was always on the run too and I only remember one scary incident, the first year we went to La Pineda in Spain. He went missing and I just couldnt find him. Our appartment was in a gated complex so that gave me some solace but someone coming in could have let him out. I eventually found him. He simply didn't answer to his name when I called him and I never thought of that until I read your brilliantly written post. You see, it's not so obvious with him cos he always answered to his name. When you're in the room with him. I guess he thought that he knew where he was so what's the problem?? Our children really perceive situations in ways we can't even begin to think of.
To this day he hides on me in Department stores but I've stopped acting like a mad woman screaming his name out! He now doesn't answer in these situations for "fun"!! xx Jazzygal

Unknown said...

Another great post that stirs up so many emotions.I remember when we were going through the diagnosis stage and I had brought Daniel to a local shopping centre and one moment he was beside me and the next minute he was gone...that sense of panic and the nauseated feeling I felt I will never forget.

I used to keep a picture of him as my screen saver on my mobile for fear that I would ever lose him again.

It took me months to teach him his name as we had a "pet" name for him at home, talk about trying to confuse the child !We live and learn xx

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