My son loves the water—we’ve been going almost every day to the beach over the past few days as the temperature has been in the 90s here in New Jersey. At 13, Charlie is a good swimmer with a particular love of swimming in ocean waves. Nonetheless, when we’re at the beach, there’s never a moment when my husband Jim and I are sitting in beach chairs and flipping through magazines. For the first time this summer, Charlie seems to understand that he needs to follow our directions to swim in towards the shore and stay between the lifeguard’s flags. But his love of the water is such that, we fear, he may very well not realize he’s in trouble until it’s too late.
An 8-year-old boy on the autism spectrum drowned in a pond in central New Jersey on Sunday. My heart went straight into my stomach on reading about Adlai Kugblenu.
If Adlai’s family and those who knew him are reading this, please know that we are thinking very, very much of him.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that Adlai often played by the pond, always with his father present. Last Sunday, Adlai went missing on Sunday afternoon and his father immediately checked the pond and called the police.
The pond is just a couple of hundred feet from an apartment we lived in till last November; we drove by it at least twice a day and Charlie and I often walked past the pond on our walks. There was no fence around it, though there was a sign saying ‘No swimming.’ My son can’t read; I don’t know if Adlai could. If my son had decided that he wanted to go into a pond or pool he sighted, I have a feeling nothing—not even a fence—might stop him.
At the moment, my son waits for Jim and me before he goes off on a walk or out of the house, but one just never knows when he might choose—it’s not at all uncommon for autistic children to ‘elope’ or escape, and, terribly, it seems that one hears about something terrible happening, too often.
We’ve already gotten an email from AutismNJ, a New Jersey advocacy organization, about addressing elopement in an autistic child’s Individual Education Plan or IEP. An IEP is the legal document that describes the educational program for a child with a disability as mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Teaching a child not to escape from home may not seem like something teachers might teach a child in a school program. But for a child on the autism spectrum, what needs to be learned goes beyond reading, writing, and the like. Charlie looks for Jim or me to come out and walk with him because he’s learned that he needs to listen to our directives; that he’s supposed to walk with us, rather than just by himself. I’m not entirely sure how Charlie figured this out. He has had years and years of being taught to wait for an adult (us, a teacher, a therapist) to tell him what to do. And, he is older and, being a teenager now, seems to understand some things more.
But all the teaching in the world won’t bring back Adlai. To those who love him, please know that we’re all thinking, that we will be thinking, of him and you.
In memoriam Adlai Kugblenu.
Photo by KQ4YM.