Waiting and wandering: 10 minutes that showed me how much Mr 8 has grown

By Alive & Well


Many parents of children with autism know this all too well: our kids can be inclined to wander, and sometimes this can have devastating consequences.

Credit: John AshburneWe stared into that particular abyss, just for a few minutes, a couple of years ago on holiday in Queensland when Mr 8 decided to wander off while we were at Movie World. In his case, the wandering was tied to waiting: he’d been asked to wait while his dad helped his younger brother wash his hands in the bathroom. But instead of waiting, he wandered.

When the concept of ‘waiting’ isn’t straight-forward

With the benefit of hindsight, and the deeper understanding I have now of where he was at, I can see that waiting wasn’t easy for him. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Communication skills – he had difficulty understanding and following instructions
  • Lack of social motivation – he just didn’t ‘get’ the value of waiting for (and staying close to) his dad, so instead he went into his own world and didn’t realise he was on his own until, well, he was on his own.

Needless to say, the 8 minutes between noticing he was missing and finding him were horrific. But we’re lucky, because it was only 8 minutes. And we found him. He was distressed too, perhaps partly because he didn’t know what to do about his predicament. He didn’t have the communication and social skills back then to speak to a member of staff and say “I’m lost.”

So you can imagine how I felt when my water-tight logistical plans fell through last week and Mr 8 was left waiting for 10 minutes at the end of his trampolining class.

Sometimes life (or traffic) gets in the way

You see, this term my 3 sons all have their sport training on the same night, so Tuesdays have become a weekly transportation challenge to get them all where they need to be at the right times – and back. Thankfully, with the help of a super supportive local mum and my lovely parents, the taxi service generally works pretty well. But last week things were different, and it meant I had to ask Mr 8 to wait for me for a few minutes because I might be a little late picking him up at the end of class.

We had a good talk about it – he’s come a long way since that day at Movie World – and agreed on a spot at his beloved trampolining school where he felt happy to wait.

On the way back to collect him, the usually 20-minute trip turned into 30, and then 40, just to get across two measly suburbs. I could feel my blood pressure rising, pulse thumping, palms sweating, anxiety escalating. I fought hard to keep it all in check, trying to remember my wellness and Son-Rise strategies to stay positive and calm. I breathed deeply and slowly and visualised him waiting patiently for me, choosing to believe it was an opportunity for him to practice following instructions. But at the same time, I was flashing back to two years ago, to the image of my husband’s stricken face when he realised our son was missing.

And then we pulled up …

… and I saw his beautiful little face inside the glass doors of the building. He had chosen a different spot to where we agreed, because it meant he could see out the door. What a clever guy.

The relief was enormous, but so was the excitement – he’d waited like I asked him to, he’d chosen a spot that worked for everyone, he could explain to me why he’d made that choice, and most importantly he wasn’t at all worried that I was running later than I had hoped.

Apparently, he knew I was coming.

Has your child wandered? How do you manage it?