I love to run. This is lucky, because so does Happy Chin.
I participate in several fun runs a year, some for charity, one because my dear mum died of cancer, and all so I can stay fit enough to keep up with Happy Chin.
He’s not running to keep fit. He’s usually bolting for the nearest shop in search of coke. We call it running away, or absconding. His Occupational Therapist calls it Unplanned Leaving.
So far he has left (unplanned):
- The beach
- A school excursion to Bunnings when the McDonald’s over the road proved irresistible
- Vacation care (across 4 lanes of traffic with Gran in hot pursuit)
- His group home (across a very busy road with an extremely hungover me in lukewarm pursuit)
- Day Support (across 2 lanes of traffic narrowly missing a reversing truck. Let’s just say that placement didn’t last long)
One memorable day we went to the beach. It was patiently explained to Happy Chin that we would walk up the beach, touch the rocks and then proceed back along the beach to the car. Then we would get ice-cream. Perfectly clear. Mr August had the dogs, the Lamington had his red inflatable crab ring (with large red pincers at the front) and off we set.
When we reached the end of the beach, HC obediently touched the rocks, then took off. He had no wish to delay the moment of ice cream gratification. Mr A and I looked at each other. Whose turn was it to chase? As I had a fun run coming up the following week I volunteered and set off in pursuit.
Happy Chin had a reasonable lead on me, but after a kilometre or so it became clear I was not going to catch him. It was unlikely he would go near the water, but in the back of my mind was the fact that only a few weeks earlier, an autistic boy had drowned at this same beach. His carer had died trying to rescue him.
So I upped the tempo, but to no avail. Luckily, after another 800 metres or so I could see Happy Chin slowing his pace and plonking himself down on the sand beside a total stranger. The total stranger turned out to be a completely mortified teenager who was trying his best to look cool at the beach. His efforts were seriously undermined by the sudden appearance of a panting 19 year old autistic boy going “Puffed! Puffed!”, and an equally red faced mother approaching. Factor in Mr August’s appearance, complete with a red rubber crab ring round his middle towing a small whining boy on a dog lead (the Lamington) and you can appreciate why it wasn’t the best day of the poor young man’s life.
Luckily Happy Chin didn’t stick around to destroy the teenager’s beach cred for too long. He was up and off at a sprint again, straight to the lifesaver’s tent where he sat down next to the two prettiest blonde female lifesavers there. Nothing wrong with his eyesight.
So we got ice cream, after a hurried parental discussion about whether this was Proper Parenting. After all, he had run away (sorry – Left, Unplanned). But on the other hand, we did say we were going to touch the rocks then go get ice cream, it was we who failed to specify the pace at which this was to occur.
Mr August had had his chance to recapture Happy Chin a week earlier, during the Great Bicycle Escape. Anglicare had very generously purchased an adult-sized 3 wheeler bike for Happy Chin’s use and he just loved to ride it along the bike tracks. We would accompany him with the Lamington on his small bike, and usually one of the dogs. Tech Support absolutely declined to be part of an expedition so patently uncool. On this occasion, I agreed to be the person to run alongside the bike whilst Mr A helped the Lamington, who was still on his bicycle L plates. What I didn’t know was that the big bike’s gears had been knocked to the low setting as we took it off the back of the ute. Mr August always made sure the gears were set to high when he ran alongside HC. This slowed the bike down to an adult’s jogging pace and the harder work on the pedals meant he slept better at night (and so did Happy Chin, incidentally).
But with the gears on low, Happy Chin just shot off as if he’d been fired out of a cannon. I bolted after him, but there was clearly no way I was going to catch him. After about a kilometre and a half, the writing was on the wall. The busy main road loomed at the end of the bike track. So did the shop, where we would always stop for a refreshing can of coke. Happy Chin was of course fully aware of this and was hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. To do so he would have to negotiate a sharp turn, ride through the service station and into the small shop’s carpark. It was increasingly clear he would be doing so sans me.
Before I had a chance to start properly panicking, Mr August shot past me on a bike. We hadn’t brought another bike. How had he got a bike? Never mind, he was catching up with HC.
Turns out Mr A had spotted two cyclists chatting by the side of the track, blurted “My autistic child’s headed for the road, can I borrow your bike, mate? Here, hold my dog,” grabbed the astonished man’s bike and ridden off. The hapless cyclist was left without a bike and having gained a small white dog.
But even the speedy Mr August was not in time to stop Happy Chin, who sailed around the bend, shot through the service station and into the carpark where he pulled up, abandoned his bike and waltzed into the shop without a care in the world. Mr A arrived just in time to pay for his soft drink. I arrived in time to participate in another discussion about Proper Parenting.
To the casual observer it may appear we were unconcerned to the point of negligence about this behaviour. This isn’t the case, but let me add that HC has always had excellent peripheral vision. It’s one of those quirky skills people on the autism spectrum often have. They may struggle to look at your face when they’re talking to you, but they can see you alright. Similarly, Happy Chin may often give the appearance that he can’t hear what you’re saying, but he can hear a packet of chips being opened in the kitchen from the bottom of the garden.
His wonderful peripheral vision was of some comfort to me as I pursued him across a busy road the morning after a big night out at a soccer function. My head was pounding and a swift chase into the shopping mall was not the medicine I had in mind. I was furious when I finally caught up with him in the shop helping himself to a large bottle of soft drink from the fridge.
“Morning mate,” said the shop girl, cheerily. “Getting a drink are you?”
I meanwhile lectured him all the way back to the car.
“That is NOT the way to get coke,” I fumed, ineffectively.
Of course it is the way to get coke! Happy Chin had just proven it. You simply run across to the shop and grab it out of the fridge! The lady behind the counter doesn’t mind.
Really, sometimes parents just don’t have a clue!