There are many challenging behaviors that can present in any person, but this week we have been keenly aware of one that Joey has been displaying for three years now: "eloping." This is in the original sense of the term, "to slip away" or "escape." With Joey, we have noticed variations in the behavior, and it can be important to note the difference in them when trying to help Joey. I call them bolting, escaping, and running. All three are stress responses. There is also wandering, which we don't see very often, and is more of an impulsive behavior than a stress response.
Bolting is actually the most dangerous, a severe impulsive fight-flight response to stress. In bolting, Joey is in blind panic. He doesn't know where he is, where he is going, he is just gone. When we first had trouble with eloping, this is what we had- a child so in the red zone and out of control, he just ran for it. Probably the most dramatic incident we had of this kind was at the Renaissance Faire, when he became overwhelmed, and then has a horde of people in costume chasing him through the woods. It wasn't pretty. We have recently been seeing more of the flip side to this coin, the fight mode. Joey was suspended this week for choosing fight instead of flight.
Bolting is dangerous because Joey has no sense of place or space, he's just barreling ahead. He could run into a street or become lost. Also, it is very scary for him, creating a dangerous spiral. As he begins to realize what is happening, he becomes even more upset, starting the spiral again.
Escaping is a more cognizant response to a specific moment of stress, or a moment when the stress becomes overwhelming. Usually, Joey know where he is going, either vaguely (I want to go home!) or specifically (going to hide in the car). He is usually displaying anger, and recently, aggression. Escaping occurs when he feels scared, unsafe, and overwhelmed. It is often unexpected, unless you are in the middle of a direct confrontation with him. An escape can escalate into a bolt if he is not contained quickly and supported effectively. He can also be very sneaky about it- edging towards the door, finding a key to a lock, or climbing over a fence.
Escaping can be dangerous because he can be gone before you know it. You think he is in his room, and he is down the street. It can also accompany a major meltdown, and if stopped inappropriately, can also regress into a fight response.
Running is a more deliberate attempt by Joey at a calming technique. Going for a walk tends to help his head clear, and sometimes he will attempt to do this if he is feeling stressed and just wants to get away from a specific person or place. This one is dangerous because it takes you by surprise- you don't realize how stressed and anxious he is. He usually knows where he is going, and often is ready to respond by teh time you find him.
We don't get wandering very often- an impulsive movement towards something of interest, or away from something not of interest. It can be a little nerve-wracking to have that sudden "where's Joey?" moment, because often you are someplace new or in public, and thought you had eyes on him.
What is terribly important is that all of these manifestations of eloping can be dangerous, even deadly. Joey can talk, but his unique and non-typical use of language places him at risk. Not only could he get lost, but if he is bolting or escaping, he might use threatening language that would be (understandably) misinterpreted by a stranger as a serious and immanent threat. Joey is big. If he barreled at a stranger, that could also be misinterpreted. In Virginia, where people can carry firearms in public, the threat of being a deadly behavior increases to horribly deadly probabilities.
We have been waiting for Project Lifesaver to help us since August. We've looked into other options, including purchasing a GPS, but none of the devices available to the general public are reliable, and there is no way to keep them on him. As Joey's challenges at controlling emotion and response become increasingly apparent, and incidents such as the one at school this week- ending in a suspension- become more frequent, our fear is also on the rise. There are just so many ways this could end up wrong.