SALT LAKE CITY – A Salt Lake woman last summer felt the prick of panic a mother feels when they’re unsure where their child has gone.
It was the first time her 3-year-old son had gotten out of the house without her knowledge.
“I was just downstairs doing laundry for maybe 10 minutes,” said Martha, who asked that she be identified only by her first name. “Ben had gotten all the way down our street to the intersecting busy street.”
A year ago, the family found out Ben had an autism spectrum disorder.
Elopement or wandering off is common for children who have autism spectrum disorders. Research published by the journal Pediatrics found that half of kids on the autism spectrum wander off.
Through an essay contest by home security company NorthStar, in partnership with the Autism Resources of Utah County Council, Martha’s family now has some peace of mind.
The family won a home security system and monitoring package from the Orem-based company.
“We’re doing the perimeter, the doors, and we’ll be putting a door sensor on Ben’s actual door to let Martha know when he’s coming in and out,” Ryan Forbes, corporate install manager, said as he worked to install the equipment.
Forbes said the goal of the giveaway, which is in its third year, is to provide protection for families with children on the autism spectrum.
Martha wrote and entered her tale about the day Ben got out.
“Besides being a very happy, cuddly, clever and active little boy, Ben is a champion escape artist and a very fast runner,” Martha wrote.
After escaping and running down the road, a couple on bikes stopped him before he could run into traffic. They started asking neighbors when the boy lived.
“I was filled with guilt and cried for hours thinking of what could have happened, I wondered how I could possibly keep him safe,” she wrote.
Ben’s 11-year-old sister, Julie, said she is always scared when her brother is missing.
“I just kind of say a prayer and I look, and we’ve found him every time,” she said.
Julie had been sleeping when Ben got out, and she woke up to the screams.
“I just heard people yelling, ‘Yeah, he got all the way down the street,” Julie said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh.”
“I don’t know how he knows. He always knows when the door is unlocked, and he just … bolts,” Martha said.
NorthStar announced the winners of the free system at the Utah Valley University Conference on Autism, where company officials presented Martha and two other families with giant checks.
“I was thrilled,” Martha said. “I knew that this could help our family so much, and I really couldn’t wait. I mean, this could not come a minute too soon.”
Forbes and Daniel Anderson visited the family’s home and worked to install a touch-screen panel on a wall near the front door.
“(The system) is something that they have never had, and probably could never have before, or maybe never even thought of,” Forbes said. “So it’s really awesome to see.”
The front door will also have a smart lock so they will know when the family or visitors come in and out.
“They’re going to have some notifications that can get sent to their phones, text message and email, letting them know if a door’s been opened. And also through the alarm panel it will alert them,” Forbes said.
Martha said the beeps will be a good reminder for family members, all of whom are always on “Benny alert,” she said.
“This is going to be so nice that we’ll just get a little beep … every time a door opens and we can make sure we know where Ben is,” Martha said.
The family is already feeling a sense of relief.
“It’s going to be a lot easier,” Julie said, “and I don’t think I’m going to have to take as many precautions, just knowing that he’s going to be in the house.”