In the video below, our family attempts to define Autism, as we expereince it through Sawyer's eyes. We can only catch a glimpse of his world, but this is what we see.
As you can see from the video, Sawyer is nearly non-verbal. What you can not see is that he is unaware of most dangers and afflicted with a behavioral condition called elopement.
Elopement is one of the least understood and most dangerous behaviors associated with autism. Individuals with autism, like Sawyer, inexplicably run away from safety and supervision, straight into danger. This behavior is a frequent cause of death in children affected by autism. With little understanding of the threat poised by cars, Sawyer is particularly at risk.
Even with abundant precautions in place, Sawyer has still been able to elude us. Our home has become an arms race between his intelligence and our ingenuity. Once he could reach door locks, we switched to double deadbolts (deadbolts that lock from the inside and out). Once he discovered windows, we sealed them. Once he could climb our fence, we built a higher one. Once he could climb that, we eliminated footholds. He attempts to open the doors in moving cars. He attempts to lay down in parking lots.In an abundance of caution, Sawyer wears a tracking device 24/7. We have also worked with his behavioral therapists to reduce risks. We find solutions to each problem and new ones arise.
But he still escapes. At least once a week, we have a scare. Some are more extreme than others, but all are terrifying.
On numerous occasions, he has run across a heavily trafficked road at the end of our street. He runs out of stores, into parking lots, toward highways. He has entered strangers’ homes. The most recent incident could have cost Sawyer his life as he escaped over a fence without our knowledge, while Lisa, my wife, and I were distracted preparing dinner. A caring neighbor was able to corral him until the police arrived. All of this, from sitting in his room to returning to our house with the police, occurred in 10 minutes.
This is life-threatening behavior. For this reason, a watchful adult must be with Sawyer at all times, within arm’s reach. A service dog would provide an additional set of eyes to protect him.
We are working with a company that provides dogs specifically trained to combat elopement. In public, the dog will be tethered to Sawyer, expertly trained to prevent him from crossing streets, leaving buildings, or bolting. The dog will be trained to warn if Sawyer attempts to escape, pursue him, and stop him if he does.
The canine assistant will be trained to not only track Sawyer if he escapes, but to provide him comfort to prevent elopement in the first place. Sawyer has limited social interaction skills outside his immediate family and other select caregivers. He does not have the social abilities and communication skills to play with his peers. Outside of his brother, he rarely plays with other children or sustains play with adults. A dog will provide much needed attention and comfort.
Sawyer is also frequently unable to express hunger, thirst, or other basic needs. Failure to address these needs often results in meltdown behavior including kicking, intense crying, and shutting down. The service dog would be in tune with his needs and could help him express them.
But the cost is great. Training an autism service dog costs approximately $18,000 and takes over a year. The dog itself costs $3500, up front (we have welcomed three rescue dogs into our home over the years, but these dogs are specifically breed as autism service animals). That is a lot of money between a teacher and a hairstylist. We asking for any assistance anyone can provide to help us defray some of these costs.
Thank you for your time and support!
- Gail Thomas
- Alice Dumo
- Alicia and Adam Kwolek
- Mallory McShane
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