When the School’s Response to My Son Eloping Was ‘This Happens’


“Mrs. Mallard,” said the voice on the other end, “we just wanted to inform you that Elijah got out of the classroom today. He made several attempts to escape, and he finally succeeded. It took us about 30 minutes, but we finally found him in a yard nearby. The lady who lived there kept him for us until we got there. We just wanted to let you know.” Elijah, my son, is an autistic boy. He is nonverbal.

These are the most terrifying moments.

Elijah has a habit of eloping. For a young couple, eloping is a happy occasion, a spontaneous act in a time of unabashed love or maybe to spite a parent. But for a parent whose child has special needs, eloping is a word that can bring fear and hopelessness. This is doubly true for me because my son seldom responds to his name (not unlike any other teenager who is preoccupied). He also loves water and will not hesitate to go toward it when he is compelled, even though he can’t swim.

In a controlled environment, eloping is less likely to occur. I trust that at his school, Elijah is in a controlled environment. There are more than two pairs of eyes in the room, and normally they’re attentive to him and will place him in time-out. But on this day, his supervisors failed him. Not only that, but they failed me by not contacting me in a reasonable time so I could help look for my child. Why wasn’t he given a time-out after the first attempt? How was he missing for so long that he was able to escape to a neighbor’s home up the road? But even more frightening, how is it that he ended up in the home of a stranger?!

When I asked these questions, I was shocked at the reply.

“This happens from time to time, and the neighbors are familiar with our kids. He’s fine.”

This indicates that these instances happen so often, the neighbors in the community are aware of it. The fact that there was a 30-minute timespan means the supervisors didn’t notice him missing for at least two to three minutes. So many things can happen in a short period of time. Thank God it didn’t.

Needless to say, I have not had that issue again. I discussed my concerns at length with the teachers and principal and told them I would not hesitate to take further actions if it happened again.

As his mother, I am his strongest advocate and will continue to fight for his safety. Never feel you are helpless to stand up for the safety of your child. It could mean life or death.

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