Sunday, 1 December 2013

Is your child a runner?

I had cause recently to remember some of the stresses of raising a child with special needs. It’s amazing how seasons come and seasons go; sometimes we imagine that the current season will never end but then you suddenly realise you moved into a new season and didn’t notice the transition.

Emily was a runner. Now when I say she was a runner please don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is a good thing. I’m not for a moment suggesting she was Jessica Ennis’ training partner at Don Valley Stadium or that she won any certificates for the 100 metres on school sports day. Cast from your mind any thought of Emily wearing a running vest with a Bupa London Marathon number on the front. This is not the kind of runner I mean. No, Emily was a runner – at any given time, without any notice she could shoot off in any direction like a wayward rocket on a windy fireworks night.

For those parents who know only too well what I mean about Emily being a runner and have had similar experiences with their children, I wanted to draw the random threads together so that you know you are not alone and it is perfectly normal, albeit frustrating and stressful. If you’ve no idea what on earth I am talking about (well you won’t be the first and you certainly won’t be the last) please pull up a pew, pour yourself your favourite tipple, read on and understand what some parents have to go through. Although, having said that, I am sure you go through things with your children that I and others have not had to cope with. But the beauty of this little online enclave is that we can share experiences and learn from one another and, most importantly, be an encouragement to one another. Mine’s a large glass of Merlot please, thanks for asking!

Runners, escape artists, unintentional hide and seek champions – whoever said that children with Down’s syndrome are slow to achieve anything – they are geniuses when it comes to things which, perhaps, we would rather they weren’t. Perhaps a reminder that we all learn in different ways and at different times, and that we go at our own pace whether that’s convenient for others or not.

When Emily was about 6, forgive the lack of exact detail I’m getting on a bit and struggling to remember……sorry you were saying?  ……Oh yes, when Emily was about 6 she managed to escape from the school yard at play time. Not only did she escape, she turned up on our doorstep at home, having found her way out of the correct exit gate, crossed over two roads and remembered where she lived. “She did what?????!!!!!” I hear you shout. Yes, and to add to the potential for harm there was no-one home when Emily knocked on the door and she was only found by another local parent driving by and thought it looked a bit odd.

Well on one hand it’s absolutely horrendous that a young child with special needs could go AWOL like that and nobody notice, but then on the other hand you want to say, “Well done Emily – fantastic achievement!” Let’s be honest if school had suggested a spot of independent travel training for Emily we’d have all said there was no chance she’d be able to do what she did and of course the dangers would far outweigh the benefits. And of course, Emily’s Teaching Assistant was mortified when she found out. She was a delightful lady who we had the utmost respect for and who turned her back for a moment and Emily was gone. Of course it meant a change to procedures after that but it just went to show that with our children anything is possible.

I can’t tell you the times when we’ve had teams of people looking for Emily, like at church and she was eventually found hiding in a cupboard, or the time in Tesco when she decided to disappear into thin air before my very eyes. You can imagine the scene, we’re near the clothing section, one moment she’s there the next gone and I’m the responsible adult. (I use the word ‘responsible’ with a caveat so large it would quite easily win first prize in any village fete “huge caveat” category, if such a thing were to exist amongst the parsnips, runner beans and chrysanthemums) “Emily”, I whispered, “Em”, louder now, “Emily, Emily” panic overtakes me and dignity leaves me as I shout “Emily, Emily….” “Yes” as her head appears from underneath a clothing rail which she has been hiding in. Oh the fun we have had at times. Obviously Emily calls it fun, I call it something completely different but at the time of writing we’ve not reached the watershed so I can’t go there.

But here’s the good news. Emily is now 21. I don’t know when it happened but I’m no longer in a sense of panic when she’s not in the same room when we’re out. Well that may not be strictly true but that’s all to do with my own insecurities rather than Emily’s maturity. She tells me where she’s going and ….she comes back afterwards. She’s not running anymore. She’s not hiding anymore. She’s not trying to disappear just for fun. It’s easier. Yes! It is easier. Don’t get me wrong there are still concerns in other areas but in this particular area things have calmed down, changed, if you will. We’ve entered a new season and left the old one behind. Things do change. Things do get better. Things will get better. So take heart and keep going. Persevere. Be encouraged.  

The current season? Oh well as Emily said about Craig Revel-Horwood whilst watching Strictly Come Dancing, “Craig is so cute. I must have him!” Hormones. Help!!!!!


  1. And after we had this conversation a friend told me of the morning her daughter (5) escaped from the gated garden and was found 2 main roads away. A 20 year old girl had tried and failed to stop her and had carried on walking! Much pain and fear all round.

  2. Oh Man - the craziest truth is that "I don't know when it happened...." It seems like every phase, yes, let's call it a phase - that Marcus goes through feels like FOREVER and some of them, well, let's just agree that some of the phases were harder to cope with than others. But then, he grows, things change, the bits I worried so much about...moved on in the stealth of the night and no one notices until one day something reminds you of something and...oh yeah! Whew! I'm glad we're through that.
    It took a few of those *triples,* but we've come through it all pretty good so far :)