• Understanding Autism from the Inside

    “Academics came easily to me. The rest of life—not so much.”
  • This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn compensation when you click on the links at no additional cost to you.

Autism Parents Need Extra Sets of Hands; The Tot is a Runner


Like my Little Man before (now 9) before him, the Tantrum Tot (3) is a runner.  I was fortunate that Aspie Teen was not a runner when he was little. Had he been runner, at least he would have been the only one I had to think about. Three additional children later, this is not the case.

Many times Tot runs off screaming, or wanders off quietly feeling no need to tell anyone where he is going. Being out of the house with him requires constant vigilance—I am sure many of you can relate.


I should be able to handle my own children;

No matter how many years go by though, I continually have the thought that I should be able to handle my own children; that I should be able to take a trip to the mall or store without another adult, or a good set of extra hands along for the ride.  But that is just not the case.  Panic wells up when I need to go somewhere with both the baby and the Tot because the first thing that runs through my mind is what I am going to do—not if—but when he runs off???

Yesterday the Little Man wanted to go and spend the day at my mother’s house (he has some friends around her block), and it took me over two hours just to get me, the baby ( 7 mos), the Tot (3), and the Little Man (9) out of the house.  It was Wednesday, which is the day Aspie Teen (15) spends his afternoon at the bookstore in the mall, so he was getting ready while I ran Little Man to my mother’s. 

First let’s start by saying that it is an exhausting fiasco to leave the house.  By the time I dropped off Little Man, the Tot was heading towards meltdown land.  Since the Tot loves trains, my plan was to come back to the house, pick up Aspie Teen, and then all of us would go to the bookstore. I could let the Tot play with the Thomas the Train set while we wait for Hubby to get home from work (he was coming straight to the mall to meet me.)

My first ridiculous thought…

I’ll pack up my laptop and maybe do some work while the Tot plays. After all, sometimes he plays for hours when Hubby sits there with him.  (Yes—I should know better, but I never do seem to learn.)

An hour, two laptops, purse, baby bag, stroller, and extra Teen (Aspie Teens buddy) later, we were all in the van and headed to Barnes and Nobles. The Teens ran into the food court to grab a couple of sodas (Tot started to lose it), but we did finally manage to get all our gear, bags, beverages, and the Tot situated in the Children’s Book area by the trains.

By this time it was about 2:30 (remember we began this adventure at 11:00) and Hubby was expected to arrive at about 3:30—one hour—that should not be a problem. I told Aspie Teen he and his friend had to stay with me until his Dad got there, because what IF the Tot takes off?  What am I supposed to do? Run off, leave the baby there…all the stuff…I hate it, but the Teen knows the drill.  He grabbed some manga, and plopped down in a seat.  Everything was going smoothly. (Well, smoothly for us that is.)

Tot was playing, not with the other children at the table, but with the trains.  He was even making the trains have whole conversations with each other. (Who says autistic children do not have imaginary play?  blah!) He was even lecturing a car, that it had to drive on the road, not the train tracks. 

Three Hours To Leave The House

I pulled some baby food from the bag, and began feeding the little one his lunch while the Tot played, the Teen read, and his buddy wandered to look at some books.  I could probably set the Teen free now, Tot’s playing so nice. That’s when it happened. The Tot walked up to me (I was burping baby,) and announced,

“I want to play something else.” 

I started to panic, trying to strap the baby into the stroller a quickly as I could because I knew what was coming.

“Ok, just wait a minute—wait for Mommy.”


The Tot screeched and took off like a bat out of hell through the store! Aspie Teen hadn’t noticed.

I knew exactly where he was going; he was heading into the mall to find the ride-on train they have set up, but that didn’t change the fact that I (or the Teen) needed to be after him—quickly. Aspie Teen fumbled with is book trying to keep his page, got tangled in the headphone cord attached to his phone, and nearly kicked over his drink trying to get out of the chair before dropping everything and bolting after the Tot.

That left me, feeling helpless—holding baby, and trying to gather both laptop bags, the baby’s food items which were now sprawled out across my seat, the Teen’s phone, jacket, books, and drinks. Luckily the Teen’s buddy came back just then, and I loaded him down with bundles so we could follow after Aspie Teen who was running after Tantrum Tot.  It’s madness.  Madness—and I hated keeping Aspie Teen hostage while waiting for his Dad, but what would have happened had I freed him and been sitting there alone when the Tot bolted? 

This is why I panic.

Even my mother doesn’t understand why I freak out when I have to go somewhere, and don’t have an extra pair of hands (or two) to help. I am not panicking for no reason, or “borrowing trouble.” I know what must have been a comical scene yesterday could have been a disaster had I been alone. And yes—it makes me feel terrible sometimes, makes me feel like less of a Mom, because of all the I should’s I assault myself with.

Now you may be thinking, OH MY GOODNESS, What a bad day!   But the truth is, that Tot was actually having a very good day yesterday—this is what a GOOD day looks like.  The next hour was spent walking through the mall with a very happy Tot eating cookies, and waiting for Dad to get there. 

Of course after Dad arrived, the Tot promptly decided he wanted the trains in the bookstore again and happily played with the Thomas railroad set until almost 7 p.m. WITHOUT RUNNING OFF.

Ya—made me want to kick Hubby in the shin (because it is somehow his fault that the Tot didn’t run off for him!)

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.