I lost Quentin one day last week. That is, he ran away and could not be found. It was just about 10 or 15 minutes, but time seemed to stop and slow down during the whole episode.
It was around 6:30pm. The babysitter had left and I was playing with Fiona and Quentin; we were rough-housing and laughing. Then the laughing paused. Quentin got up and left the room.
I heard the front door open and close.
And I ran.
We live in a first floor apartment. I opened the door in time to see him rushing through the front door of our building. I slipped on shoes, grabbed the keys, told Fiona to stay put, and ran after him.
The cold air hit me with a shock – I had no coat and it was below freezing. The sun was almost down. Then again, Quentin did not have a coat either, I reasoned – or even shoes! I assumed he would not get far.
I assumed wrong.
It was dark and I could not see him in any direction I looked. Fiona poked her head out the window, looking worried. I shrugged to her and ran to the nearest avenue, which was a commercial strip of stores and restaurants. Quentin likes logos and words, and he often wants to read them on signs closest to us. I heard a child’s voice – was that him? No, it was a whining boy shuffling along with his mom. I called for his name, in no particular direction. Someone walked by and gave me a strange look.
Could he have run to his favorite pizza place? I ran down to the shop and peered in. No luck. I shivered and ran back home. Maybe he would be at the front door, waiting to come back in. Nope – not there either – just Fiona’s worried face in the window. I called his name again. More weird looks from people on the street.
Finally, I called my husband, Mike, who was not home yet. I needed to hear a voice of reason. I needed to freak out at someone who wasn’t Fiona. (I was very lucky that I had my cell phone in my pocket.) Sure enough, Mike had the answer. “I bet he’s in that building next to ours. He always wants to see the elevator there.” I had forgotten about that. And just as I hung up and turned toward that building, my neighbor, Danny approached.
“I got him,” Danny said, without missing a beat. We ran inside as he explained that Quentin had taken the elevator up to the fourth floor, where is apartment is. “He knocked on the door, but I couldn’t see him through the peep hole because he is too short. He was knocking on everybody’s door, I think.”
Danny told me that he had tried to help Quentin come back to me, but he wouldn’t listen to him. He had run to the basement, explained Danny, so we took the stairs. No Quentin. We ran back up. Still no Quentin, but we saw the elevator numbers going down from the lobby elevator. The doors popped open, and there he was.
Quentin smiled sheepishly at me.
It has taken me a few days to sit down and write this post. I’m still recovering. Since then, Quentin has attempted to leave our home innumerable times to explore this same elevator next door, and several others. He has even used words to request a trip to this elevator. But we don’t live there. We cannot oblige his request to see an elevator whenever he has the whim.
The elevator love/ affinity/ perseverative interest is not new to us. Quentin began following elevator videos on YouTube since last summer. In fact, someone posted a video depicting the elevator in our local Barnes & Noble bookstore, which Quentin absolutely loves. So, we now make regular trips there, just for him to experience that elevator. (The security guard there knows us well at this point.)
We live in an outer-borough of New York City. There are a lot of elevators here! And while the majority of residential homes do not have them (we are mostly surrounded by 3- or 4-story buildings with stairs), they definitely do exist.
Technology and media has helped Quentin pursue this interest. Through Google Street View, Quentin has “gone into” about every YMCA building within our 5 mile radius just because he can virtually move inside using that feature, and find elevators. He recently received this elevator picture book over the holidays and he loves it. Between those things and all the elevator videos posted on YouTube (there are a lot!), Quentin can get his elevator fix at any time.
I recently learned that he is not alone in this passion. As it turns out, the rash of elevator videos are most likely posted by other autistic elevator enthusiasts. This fascinating article about elevators and autism popped up in my social media world a few months ago, and it made me realize that Quentin is not alone. This is a Thing!
That being said, none of this helps our current situation. Quentin has turned into a “runner” – the type of kid you are always worried about. Sadly, this is not unusual in the autism world. According to the National Autism Association (NAA), 48% – nearly half – of children with autism attempt to elope from safe situations. (The term “wandering” is often used, although I refuse to call it that. That word implies a slow, lackadaisical motion, which, for Quentin, seems laughable.)
We are learning to figure this out. We are talking to his school, his doctor, and I’m even alerting the local police station about him. We are considering all of our options, including GPS devices. We are buying a new bolt lock that has a numerical combination to unlock. It might just be a phase that he’s going through, or it might not be. After all, before Quentin’s elevator passion came around, he would run away from us while walking through the neighborhood for a variety of reasons – for logos, words, ceiling fans, televisions in stores, and a host of other things. Who is to say how long this elevator thing will last, or what passion will send him flying out the door next?
For now, we will take him to Barnes & Nobles for that coveted elevator ride. We hope that satiates him for now, so he won’t want to bolt out of the front door barefoot in these freezing temperatures again.