Once upon a time, there was a man who had a beautiful dog named Sonny.
Sonny was well trained and well-behaved; such a credit to his owner. However, well-behaved Sonny had one bad habit: when the wind blew, he liked to chase leaves. If a leaf skittered across the ground, Sonny would bound after it, and try to catch it. It was his only bad habit, though, and the man was so very careful to watch Sonny, and to keep him close when the wind blew.
One day, the man took Sonny into the town. It was a calm day. The sun was blazing in the sky, and birds were singing in the trees. A day for shirt-sleeves and happiness, and for showing off how well-behaved his Sonny was.
The man walked proudly down the main street of the town with Sonny walking quietly at heel beside him, perfectly placed, his head at the man’s knee. How good his dog was, the man thought, enjoying the freedom without a leash in his hands. How content he was inside himself, reaping the rewards of all those hours spent teaching his dog to behave.
Along the street, the man saw someone he knew, an old friend who smiled and called to him. And at that moment, as the man’s attention was moved by this happy sight, a stray breeze lifted the rubbish in the gutters of the street, and a single leaf was wafted free.
Sonny died that day, while his owner’s head was turned … for the sake of a moment’s inattention and a single leaf dancing down the road.
It’s a heavy-handed analogy, I know. But it came into my head the other day as I sat before two men and was forced to justify why we keep Ian’s bedroom door locked at night.
These men who, to the best of my knowledge, haven’t raised a child, let alone a child with special needs. Who sat there, presuming to judge me, heavy lidded eyes, with false smiles plastered on their faces. Quick to reassure me that I wasn’t being accused, while at the same time, their very insistence that the meeting be held a blatant accusation…….
I have stood in an empty road, and looked this way and that, and felt that hollow terror in the depth of my soul. With no way of knowing which direction my child had gone, or which way would be the best chance of finding him. A child with no sense of danger; no sense … of anything that would put him in harm’s way.
And I had to sit in front of two men, and justify my actions. These men who had never felt that fear. Who would never feel that fear.
We started locking Ian’s door at night when he was five years old. We found him wandering around the house in the small hours. Into everything. With access to anything. Knives. Matches. Keys … You can hide what you like, but the autistic child never misses a trick, and will sniff out your secret hiding places like a mink after a vole. Alone around the house. While you sleep.
Ian needed to be safe. WE needed Ian to be safe. In his room, next to ours, where he had his books and his toys, and his bed.
So we lock his door last thing at night. If he needs us, he knocks, and we answer. But otherwise he is safe.
Because in our world, a moment’s inattention could cost Ian his life.
And I had to sit in front of two men.
And explain myself.
“From the Inside – raising, teaching, loving an autistic child” is available in paperback and e-book from emuink.ie