by the grace of god

*

I don’t know where to start. I’ve stared at the blinking cursor for ten minutes now and I still don’t know how to tell this story. So I’m going to do what I tell others to do when they tell me that they don’t know where to begin. I’m going to start in the middle. Where it hurts.

My baby left the building.

When the social skills group session ended, she and her little buddy, Lou were let out into the waiting room. Alone. Lou took her by the hand and together they walked out the door.

No one saw them go.

They’ve known each other since they were in the same integrated classroom in preschool. Two little girls with very different strengths but similar challenges – both on the spectrum. They had a play date planned. Lou’s mom was to pick them up and take them both back to her house. She was running late. By two minutes. TWO minutes.

She happened to arrive at just the right moment to see them walking blithely along before they disappeared around the corner. They were still holding hands.

They had managed to cross the street. They were a block away from the center.

“We’re walking home,” her daughter said matter-of-factly when she stopped them in their tracks, panicked.

After the bend in the road, the next turn is onto a major thoroughfare.

I saw the e-mail at 3am.

“Jess, I’m so sorry.”

“I’ll be extra vigilant.”

“I can’t apologize enough.”

“Wandered from my notice.”

No, you can’t apologize enough.

I couldn’t breathe.

At 4:30, I wrote back.

I haven’t known how to respond. I’m grateful that you wrote, and I know that you will do what needs to be done to ensure that this won’t happen again.

But it’s 4:30 am and I’m wide awake because I can’t think of anything other than our two little girls walking hand in hand to God knows where – and what might have happened had [Lou's mom] not come exactly when she did – happening on them by chance before they were simply out of sight. It’s absolutely terrifying.

Please talk to EVERYONE at the center. Use this Holy Crap By The Grace Of God We Got Lucky moment as an opportunity to educate EVERYONE who works there in ANY capacity so that there is absolutely no possibility that this can EVER happen again.

Luau will be coming by today to talk about this further.

I’m shaking. It’s hours and hours later and I’m still shaking.

Sleep never came.

They walked out of the building, crossed the street and were headed around the corner.

By the grace of God, they are safe.

But I

am still

terrified.

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45 thoughts on “by the grace of god

  1. Thanking God with you that they are safe, praying they remain safe. I am so sorry this happened, but sadly is is a reality we all face – this same possibility. We must be vigilant and adamant that our schools get this.

    Your trust has been severely eroded. Seek counseling now to help you restore it over time. Consider having a third party help you in your discussions with the center. Don’t try to do It all alone. Have another autism parent, family member or advocate help you write a letter, go to the meeting with you, etc.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and Luau. But absolutely praising God they are safe.

    • oh we’ve already done it. this wasn’t going to wait.

      we spoke with the director of the center yesterday, who, to her credit, called us before we could call her. she had already worked up a new, much stricter procedure for dismissal (there was already one in place that the staff in this case simply didn’t follow) and who will be personally overseeing EVERY transition for the next two weeks to ensure that the procedures are being followed properly. i also asked that they put a stop sign at kid level on the door with the question ‘do you have an adult with you?’

      i also wrote to brooke’s entire team – including both school and private providers to ask that they help us address this with her. we have a social story on its way and her aide is going to work with her on writing her own story using pix writer. the bcba is working up a procedural program for what to do in a fire as well – because we can’t teach her that you NEVER leave a building without a grownup, given that if there is ever a fire and she can’t reach an adult, she has to know to get the hell out. we also devised a plan with our private slp that at the next session, they will talk about what to do if dad’s not there to pick her up and they will practice – by sending her out into the waiting room alone. luau will wait outside the door of the building as a safety net, but hopefully we can teach her to go back to the adult she was with (the slp) and ask for help rather than leaving.

      it’s friggin exhausting trying to think of all the possibilities.

      • Those are all good plans. But yes, it is exhausting in a way there are no words to describe. My heart is aching for what you are going through.

        As much as one can, be kind to yourself. Get out this weekend and try to distance yourself from this. It will eat you alive. Fight back against fear: plan, prepare, then choose to live your life again. Don’t let fear kill what is most important.

  2. I’m still having trouble processing this since you phoned me last evening to warn me about what I was going to read this morning. Thank goodness they are safe now.

    Love you,
    Mom

  3. THANK GOD everything turned out okay. Quite a few years ago my son was doing summer camp at a local museum that is more of an outdoor/history/nature place. The kids waited for pickup on the front porch of the reception building, with a counselor. When I picked up my son, he kept talking about the dog a man had promised him. Apparently a stranger had taken my son to his car, said he could see his dog if my son showed him his shirt (or something…..the memories are dim), and my son went. When I asked the counselors why the **??!! they let him go with the guy, they said, “we thought it was his grandfather.” Completely different situation, but exactly the same grace that resulted in a bullet dodged, a child saved. Thank you for sharing this story; I pray that you never have a similar one to report. {hugs}

  4. Oh Jess. I feel it. My baby wears a tracking device… it’s an absolutely terrifying part of how things are.

    I have to tell you though — I am also touched and moved by the gift that Brooke has a FRIEND with whom she can walk hand in hand like that, even if it means the need to be doubly vigilant with the two of them.

    Deep-breathing vibes and hugs from afar!

  5. Omg. I’m not going to suggest anything, because you will have thought of it. Just sending waves of empathy, and some sleep karma.

  6. I have tears in my eyes, because the what-ifs are so horrible. Thank God your girl is safe. It’s one of my biggest fears for my Em, who doesn’t yet understand that there are things in this world that can hurt her.

  7. That is absolutely terrifying. It brings all my worst fears to the forefront. You’re on top of it though, to ensure this never happens again. They had an angel watching over them, and thank god for that.
    Cymbie ran from me coming out of ABA a couple weeks ago. I told her to stop, she didn’t listen (she usually does). I knew I wasn’t going to catch her pushing the stroller. In a panic i let the stroller go, to run after Cymbie, without putting the breaks on it. As I’m chasing Cymbie, who is just feet away from running into the middle of a busy parking lot, I turn back to see the stroller rolling. It went over the side walk curb and fell on it’s side by my car. I caught Cymbie, and ran back to my screaming 1 year old. Thank god, they were both ok…but it was awful. It took me forever to calm down. So, on some level, I can relate to how you’re feeling.

  8. Oh my God, that is sooo freakin’ scary! I am so glad they are ok. When my son was in kindergarden, his teacher told him to use the bathroom outside since there was a few of them waiting to use the bathroom in the classroom and he really needed “to go”. Well he had wandered across the entire school campus to the P.E bathrooms b/c to him that was the “outside bathroom”. He didn’t know there was bathrooms in the kindergarden wing.He was gone for almost an hour before she realized and another teacher found him wandering around. I flipped out at the teacher. I know how upset you are. Our old school was in a bad area on a very busy road that was like a highway. It is so scary. I am so glad they are ok.

  9. sending my thanks to you and God that the girls are safe, that the policy is being addressed immediately before tragedy occurred. And a hug, with prayers for God’s peace and a slowed heart rate and the ability to get a good night’s sleep.

  10. That story just gave me indigestion…because it’s *that* easy…it can happen *that* quickly. By the grace of God, indeed, that your two girls were found and were safe. I wouldn’t have slept either. So sorry to hear about this…

  11. I am glad that girls are safe, I know you will do whatever is needed to, You take care of your emotional health. Please let Lou’s mom know that we understand her pain too. I am not sure if I am crossing the line but right now I feel bad for Lou’s mom too. I can imagine what she is going through.. Whatever you do I hope you know that “this friendship” is very important to your daughter. I hope both of you sit together and cry or do whatever it takes to get over the this shaky and terrifying day.. Love

  12. I am still terrified for her. And you. And me.
    I just read what you wrote in response to the first comment. I’m going to talk to our home therapists about doing just that – a social story for the what if mom isn’t there AND the practice for generalizing. You may have just saved a life with that comment.

  13. Echoing what others have laready said (and what I said to you privately yesterday)…Clearly, Brooke and Lou had their guardian angels working double-time.

    But I also want to add, having now read the account of the follow-up actions and communications, THANK GOD she has you and Luau and a vigilent and proactive team. As miperfect as it may feel (and BE) at times, there is a strong team looking out for Brooke and guiding you all through the rapids.

  14. My worst nightmare…… I have chills thinking about it….. I’m sure the fear has got to be rumbling through you still, but I know you will use this, as you do, to make sure no other parent who has a child in that class will ever have to know that fear! Thank God….Thank God!

  15. I had little boy wander off last year and I know how that close call can be traumatizing for a mom. Thank God they are fine. I want to give you and the other mom a giant hug. I hope they learn from this not to stop watching just because it’s the end of they day.

  16. We once lost sight our our son in The Museum of Natural History in NYC and that was our “wake up” moment. It was terrifying, horrifying and irresponsible on our part BUT he was ultimately OK. Now that we know better, we do better. I am so relieved that the girls are alright. Please remember, the girls are OK.

  17. Thank God that Brooke and Lou are safe! I know the panic you’re feeling. As I write this, my 6-year old is standing on a kitchen chair, trying to reach the latches that we have on every door to keep him from running out. He’s mostly happy to stay inside, but often he wants to just get out the door and RUN. And he can’t say his name, my name, or anything else, if someone friendly should find him. (He has a bracelet, which of course he won’t wear because he hates the feel of anything touching him.)
    It doesn’t help to tell myself that I’m sure it will be fine, because often these stories don’t end well. I just have to be able to tell myself that at the end of the day, I did absolutely everything that I could think of to protect him.

  18. Glad the girls are SAFE…. And they are SAFE. :-)

    Our OT/PT/Speech “Center” will not allow any child to leave without a grownup. As a practice of our “center” the therapist MUST WALK THE CHILD or CHILDREN to the adult and release the child to the adult. Children are never free out in the waiting room unless their therapist has walked them out and released them to their KNOWN PARENT or KNOWN ADULT. All children are kept behind LOCKED doors until released.

    Please don’t live in fear. Get your center to FIX IT. All parents run 2 minutes or 5 minutes or even 10 minutes late. If the therapists walks the child out and the adult is not there, the child must then stay behind the LOCKED DOOR in the therapy “office.” When the parent gets there, if the child is high-functioning enough then the child goes to get the therapists and the therapists releases the child out the door. (I couldn’t get in to get my kid because they keep the door locked. I have to ring the bell and have someone come to me.)If the child is not high functioning enough, then the child sits in the therapy room with the therapists. If the parent is too late, or makes a habit of being late, the center will make a charge for it.

    Honestly, it is a win/win for all. The parent has incentive to get their child on time and the child will not be released without the adult being there.

    HUG YOUR KID and LOVE HER like her MOMMA… Not in Fear, but as the strong, loving, ever-changing, understanding momma that YOU ARE!

    Blessings today… :-)

  19. This is my worst nightmare and thank god that she and her friend are safe. Luckily he is in a great autism support preschool where there is at least one teacher for every two students. I am truly terrified about summer daycare and getting the proper support he needs. I feel sick to my stomach for you.

  20. I’ve been there. I know the absolute terror of when your child just disappears. I’m so thankful to God that they are both safe.

  21. I think this is one of the biggest nightmares for all of us. I am thanking God they are both ok! I feel the need to show this post to my son’s school due to the fact that after 9 yrs with a para they’ve decided he doesn’t need one anymore. The second day without one he was found sitting in the wrong classroom and almost missed lunch. What if he had walked out the door? We had about 4 hrs notice that the para was going away so not enough time to think of all the variables. Jess, I see that you are trying to use this to improve the facility, and I don’t want to project my own feelings, but it’s ok to be absolutely LIVID over this. My prayers are with us all. God Bless.

  22. I have this same worry every time we go to a store or church, any place really that Kaden has a chance to flutter from my sight. I’m so happy your kiddo is safe though.

  23. I can remember when my oldest was in K and the bus came to drop kids off and he wasn’t on it. I freaked out and flipped out. He is nt but still! They LET him get on the wrong bus and NOBODY noticed! No one even knew where he was till the bus driver called the school when he had never gotten off. I have NEVER been so scared in my entire life. I just knew my baby was gone and so scared I would never see him again. The school was lucky I didn’t have a way to show up there because I would have hurt someone! Hugs!

  24. you need to call in a report to the abuse hotline in your state – the dept. of family services or whatever they call it in your state needs to know about this and it needs to be fully investigated. the center needs to understand how serious this is.

  25. This happened with my little boy (6yrs) at school this year. He walked off campus, alone, during the first week of school. It was lunch recess and nobody even knew he had left. My stomach hurts just writing that amount. I will have to fast forward to saying that he is alright and was not harmed. But, even still, the hypotheticals are debilitating. I feel so conscious of all the ways it could have gone even more wrong. His limited language, plus the busy streets, plus the high school down the way, plus a million other things… I’ve been dealing with it the only way I know how. Holding people accountable. Taking all extra precautions. Controlling what I can. I have to halt all hypotheticals. They will not get me where I need to go and they will not protect my little son. So, when they come back to haunt me, because they will and do, I must stop them at the door and say, “I’m doing something about it.” I wish you luck, Jess, and clarity and peace of mind. I’m confident that you will know just what needs to be done to keep your girl safe.

  26. My heart is in my throat. I would be out of my mind and if I’m running late for pick up it’s for these exact reasons. ((((Big Hugs))))

  27. Thank. God. xo

    And thank you for the incredibly important reminder. So sorry this was part of your “basta”… and sorry I recommended a day off; that would be trivial advice at this important time.

    Hugs.

  28. There is no greater fear for a mom than this and there is nothing anybody can do to make it better. It happened and it’s one memory that doesn’t fade over time. A man tried to take my daughter once. She was almost five. I was sitting right there watching her but due to the design of our house, I could not see him. He thought she was alone. The police finally questioned him, but nothing was done. Tears and anger still come every time I let myself think about it and it happened over ten years ago. It changed our lives forever. Thankful that your precious Brooke and her friend are safe and praying some good will come from this horrible experience.

  29. In my above comment I meant that there is nothing anybody can do to make the FEELINGS better. If anybody can bring about something good from such a bad experience, it will be you.

  30. I have so been there. It happened a couple years ago. Hunter was in high school (keep in mind, however, that he is non-verbal). I have always felt very comfortable with the people caring for him, but then I got the call. Hunter somehow got lost amongst the shuffle of all the kids getting out at the same time. It was crowded, he didn’t get on the bus and NOBODY noticed.. and when I say Nobody, I mean.. not the teachers, aides, bus driver or the after-school program where he was supposed to end up. It wasn’t until an HOUR or so later than another kid from the school recognized Hunter sitting out, alone in the bus area and knowing that this was out of place, took him to the school office. The office called his teacher who then had to make the call to me. The What If’s will drive you crazy and to this day, who knows what it was like for him with no connection and no direction for that time. What happened during that time?? Being non-verbal, only he knows, but you worry that someone could have bullied him, he could have wandered looking for guidance, did he feel abandoned? Like you, everyone has said they will be extra careful but I still worry more than I used to.. He wears a medic alert tag now with our cell phone numbers.. but nothing will ever really make it easier. I wish you all the best with your situation! Trust is a tenuous thing!

  31. Thank God they were found, safe and sound, and steps will be taken to prevent a repeat. Every time this happens here, I love a few days of sleep. The brain keeps trying to solve it, ponders the possibilities, reels at them, and goes back to trying to figure out what to do. Its amazing how many people say they will help and don’t, or you call people who who are supposed to help and they put you on a waiting list, as if this isn’t a life-and-death emergency. We’re still waiting for a transmitter. Almost three months later.

  32. OMG, I have been sitting her staring at my screen after reading your post with tears in my eyes. I think what you went through is what we parents fear most. I will be hugging Jim extra tight tonite and saying an extra prayer thanking GOD that they are both safe. Jim has a habit of wandering, which is why I think this hit me extra hard. Jim will be getting a service dog in two weeks, and then hopefully that will help the situation.

    As horrible as this was, thank you so much for sharing, it reminds everyone to be extra vigilant.

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