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Autistic teen elopement survival story

Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers

The last day of school for my nonverbal son Matthew as a ninth grader was not a typical day. A few of the students in his special education class were graduating and the day was not as structured due to events and being the last day before summer break.

I learned later on that whenever an adult in his class goes toward one of the doors in the classroom that Matthew tends to get up, indicating he would like to go out. On this day the teacher brought along Matthew and another student for a walk around the building. His class regularly picks up recycling around the campus and goes on community outings. The class is community based instruction.

Matthew's aide did not accompany them on this walk nor was I ever informed to the reason why he stayed behind. They probably needed adult coverage in the room, but I am not entirely certain to this. While they were outside another adult asked Matthew's teacher to lock a door or gate. When he turned to perform this function Matthew took off down the street.

His High school is located in the vicinity of downtown Los Angeles and off of a busy street. According to the teacher he could see Matthew and ran after him. I am not certain if the other student stayed behind but a female motorist pulled over to give the teacher a ride to catch up with Matthew. Somehow they lost him.

The High school has school police on site so they were notified. Some of the aides went out driving around the area looking for Matthew while the truancy department made copies of his school photograph and posted signs around the local businesses.

Since it was the last day of school I was out running errands. The time the incident took place was around 11:45 AM. His aide rides the bus to school with him preventing him access to his vehicle since it is at our location. When I phoned home around 12:30 PM to ask my other son what he wanted at the grocery store he stated that the police had just been there. The police officers wanted to know if Matthew had gone home when he left the school grounds. They also wanted a recent photograph of him.

Another aide had taken some photos from their last community outing two weeks earlier. My son gave the officer one of those photos. When I learned what took place at school I screamed while inside the grocery store, which caught the attention of a cashier that is familiar with Matthew from our weekly visits there. She helped me check out in record time.

I barely remember driving home as I was frantic to learn what exactly took place and what was happening with the search for Matthew. I was also very concerned for my other son Nicholas, who is higher functioning on the spectrum. I assumed he was very scared when he saw two police officers at the door.

I had a voice mail message at home and on my cell phone from the school informing me of Matthew's elopement. Trying to get through to a person when contacting the school and all the options was quite frustrating at the time. The first person I spoke to from the main office told me that Matthew was not absent and did not understand that he had left the grounds and was a special ed student.

The Assistant Principal asked me to come down to the High school and help look for Matthew. An hour had already passed with no sign of Matthew. The police would not let me leave the premises to go look upon my arrival. After showing my ID to the officer and sharing the favorite spots that Matthew likes to go to I went inside to the classroom to find out what had taken place. I was surprised to see his aide in the hallway and normal activity taking place in his room.

The officer asked me if Matthew knew how to use a bus or if he carried money. I explained that he is nonverbal and wears adult diapers. I had to find out when his last diaper change was because I knew he would not get far if he needed changing as that would slow him down. He was wearing pants this day and had not yet switched into shorts. He does not carry any identification on him.

Matthew's class takes the city buses on their trips and outings. I was not sure if he could ride the bus on his own since he always sits in the back seat when we go out in the vehicle. We were not really sure of what Matthew was capable of.

We went back outside to the officer along with teacher to share more information about Matthew. We notified the officer that Matthew is terrified of dogs. At this point a LAPD helicopter was over the area. I was worried about cars and if there was any freeway entrances in the vicinity.

As more officers were arriving it was decided that my son and I would ride along with them to go home and get Matthew's pillow case and pajamas for the K-9 unit. It was quite an experience to be seated in the back seat of the squad car.

While at home I quickly posted to facebook that prayers were needed noting that Matthew got off school grounds. I did not think to add a picture or mention the name or location of the school. I also notified Matthew's Dad of the incident and headed back to the school with the police.

The police moved their command center to the other side of the campus and closed the access to the school from the street. They had students use the other exit so that the K-9 could get the scent without other students nearby. The dog went off into the campus with the officers.

At this point I did not see why they were searching the school area as it was clear Matthew had left the campus hours earlier and was seen running down a street. The school bus driver arrived to wait in line and noticed that I was with the police. She had time before school was dismissed so she went out on the bus route to see if she could find Matthew.

My neighbor had told me I should contact the media so I went inside the school to talk to the Assistant Principal. I emailed her a photo of Matthew to submit to the television stations. We were waiting for approval from someone at LAUSD to get the media involved when their Mental Health professional showed up to offer me support. I did not need to talk to anyone and was with my other son making sure he was not upset. We were both quite calm throughout the entire ordeal.

I think seeing how organized the school police and LAPD were put me at ease, although there were at least 25 or more officers there and I would have liked to have them out in the field looking for Matthew. While inside the school we got notified that they found Matthew at the California Science Center.

His class has taken the bus a few times to go there. Somehow he got on the bus with no money and knew when to get off to walk over to the Science Center. The call came to the school around 4 PM. A squad car was sent to go get Matthew. I spoke to security at the Science Center the following day to get more details. The incident report stated that Mathew was found wandering an employee area and would not leave. He was rocking back and forth and pacing. They realized he had a disability and called their local police unit. They were aware of the missing child report and faxed the photo of Matthew to the Science Center which confirmed it was him.

When I contacted MTA to ask about their cameras I was informed that they delete the videos after three days and you need a subpoena in order to view them.

Now that a new school year has started I have just been informed that they will be headed in two days to the California Science Center. I am asking for the aide to take photos from the bus of the location and inside as well.

It would seem that Matthew enjoys going there and can ride a bus without paying. It just so happens that it is free as well. I was wondering how he made it inside without paying.

My teen son is very observant and has learned some skills in High School.
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Content copyright © 2015 by Bonnie Sayers. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Bonnie Sayers. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Tara O´Gorman, MSW for details.


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