SALT LAKE CITY – Martha and her husband have three children. About a year ago, they found out their youngest, Ben, had an autism spectrum disorder.
“Our girls started talking really early and Ben wasn’t really saying any words,” she said. “He wasn’t even saying mama or anything.”
Elopement is a characteristic for some on the spectrum. They wander, bolt, or leave a safe place without permission.
According to a survey conducted by Interactive Autism Network, nearly half of all people with autism engaged in elopement behavior.
“He’s still not really talking very much, and we don’t know how much he understands of what we’re explaining to him,” Martha said of her 3-year-old. “So he doesn’t understand the dangers of getting away.”
They’re an active family. Their kids are often in and out, whether it’s to take the dog out or to play in the backyard.
Sometimes they forget to lock the door. It’s led to what the family calls being on “Benny alert.”
“I don’t know how he knows. He always knows when the door is unlocked and he just, you know, bolts,” Martha said.
Then she heard about an essay contest through NorthStar Alarm to win a home security system and monitoring package.
“I just sat down and I wrote about last summer, the first time that he really got out of the house without me knowing that he was gone,” Martha said.
She was downstairs doing laundry for about 10 minutes when she heard a neighbor yelling her name.
“Ben had gotten all the way down our street to the intersecting busy street,” she said.
Luckily, some strangers saw Ben, got him out of the street and started looking for his parents.
“I heard some people yelling, yeah he got all the way down the street,” Julie, Ben’s older sister, said. “And I’m like, oh my gosh.”
In her essay, Martha describes Ben as “a champion escape artist and a very fast runner.”
“I always get really scared when he’s missing,” Julie said. “I just kind of say a prayer and I look and we found him every time.”
NorthStar Alarm announced the winners of the free system at the Utah Valley University Conference on Autism, where they 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.”
Ryan Forbes, corporate install manager, came to Martha’s home to install the system.
“We’re putting in the new touch screen panel for them and we’re also doing the perimeter, the doors,” he said. “And we’ll be putting a door sensor on Ben’s actual door to let Martha know when he’s coming in and out.
It’s the third year the company has given away free systems to families with children on the spectrum.
“They’re really excited,” he said. “It’s something that they have never had, and probably could never have before; or maybe never even thought of. So it’s really awesome to see that.”
The system will send notifications to their phones, and the panel will beep when a door has been opened.
“This is going to be so nice that we’ll just get a little beep and you know every time a door opens we can make sure we know where Ben is,” Martha said.
“Our whole goal is to give peace of mind to people and protecting this family,” Forbes said.
This family is already feeling a sense of relief. Especially for Julie, who loves and worries about her younger brother.
“It’s going to be a lot easier and I don’t think I’m going to have to take as many precautions,” Julie said. “Just knowing that he’s going to be in the house.”