From Elopement to Enlightenment


They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but this picture is worth a thousand words and over 2000 hours of therapy. 

This picture may seem silly to most parents. A picture of a child gazing at a lake deep in thought. That is what you see, right? Well, that is not what I see…


Before I tell you what I see I want to add a disclaimer. 

I am opening myself up to criticism, judgment, and negative comments. Honestly, it is nothing I have not heard before but please remember a real human is behind this keyboard and she is trying to be the best mom she can be to her child. I know my son better than anyone else in this world, therefore, I know what he needs and what he will benefit from. 

With that being said…

My son, Teddy, was diagnosed with high functioning Autism and Apraxia of speech at 2.5 years old. There were many behaviors that gave me the indication that a diagnosis was inevitable but one, in particular, was his inability to understand danger. Even more in particular was his constant need to run away and never stay by my side wherever we went. I later found out that this behavior is called elopement and it is a very common characteristic of a person with Autism. 

Before my son was diagnosed I wracked my brain on where I went wrong in teaching him about danger. Parking lots became a death trap, family walks were not possible, and we stayed far away from all bodies of water. I felt like a failure. This is my first child and I screwed it up. I could not leave the house with him alone. It took a minimum of two people to keep him corralled. I said no to birthday parties, playdates, and even church. 

Fast forward two years and Teddy is 4.5 years old and he understands the danger of crossing the street, being near water, and how to look both ways in a parking lot. He stays close to me while walking in a store and he holds my hand so that he stays close by. 

So what changed…

What has ultimately saved my child’s life…

ABA therapy. 

In August of 2019, my husband and I enrolled our son at an Autism Therapy Center that specializes in Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy. 

This therapy is controversial in the Autism world. VERY controversial. 

I have read the books, the blogs, the websites, and spoken to countless professionals about ABA therapy. My husband and I were on the fence about it, however, we have always had a mantra in our household, “you never know unless you try” so try we did. 

This therapy is not appropriate for every individual on the spectrum. It is also important to point out that there is an “old” style ABA and a “new” style ABA. 

It is rigid. It is rewards-based. And it works. 

One of the first goals added to Teddy’s plan of care was his lack of sensing danger and his elopement. 

Over the course of his first year doing ABA therapy, we got down to the root cause of his elopement, which allowed me to understand when and if it will happen. 

The day my son was almost hit by a car…

I vividly remember the scariest moment of elopement. Teddy had been in therapy for a little over a year. I was dropping him off at his center like we do every day. We got to the doors and he saw something that made him uneasy because it was out of his routine. His reaction was to BOLT. 

I was very pregnant at the time and I ran after him as fast as I could. As I caught up to him a car on the main road slammed on its brakes within inches of my child. I quite literally saw my life and my child’s life flash before my eyes. 

It was at that moment we decided to double down on our efforts in therapy to address the elopement. 

2000 hours later…

Over 2000 hours in ABA therapy, Teddy understands danger. Now do not get me wrong, I am still a ball of nerves when we are in public and I am always ready to run after him if need be. 

Two weeks ago my husband and I made a big decision to take our three kids to Olander Park. We live less than a mile from this gorgeous park but we have never ventured there because of the body of water smack dab in the center. We strategically went to a playground secluded in the back but eventually, my boys wanted to playground hop. On our walk to the next set of swings, Teddy pointed at the water and asked to go look at the ducks. My husband and I looked at each other and without words, we agreed to let him show us what he would do. 

And the picture above is what occurred!

The picture…

He stopped far enough back from the water to be safe and watched the ducks, geese, and paddleboarders in the distance. At one point he turned to me and said, “no water mommy.” As his two-year-old brother approached to stand with him he promptly told his brother the same thing.

I locked eyes with my husband and I know we were thinking the same thing. HE DID IT. I wanted to burst into tears, I was so proud of my little guy. He has worked his tail off in therapy for years so that we could have these moments. 

Although many families have varying opinions on ABA therapy I can say without a doubt it has saved my child’s life. I will forever be grateful for the pediatrician that introduced me to it, an insurance policy that covers it, and all of the men and women that work in ABA centers. I firmly believe that this therapy has saved my child’s life. And for that, I am eternally grateful. 


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