First, let’s get through the definitions. Elopement, as it refers to autism and other disabilities, occurs when someone wanders away from a “safe environment. Typically, they will leave to get something of interest, such as water, the park, or train tracks – or to get away from something, such as loud noises, commotion, or bright lights.” As AWAARE.org points out, “dangers associated with wandering include drowning, getting struck by a vehicle, falling from a high place, dehydration, hyperthermia, abduction, victimization and assault.” Other terms for elopement are wandering, running, bolting, and fleeing. It’s dangerous, and it happens all the time. In fact, just in this past week, several children engaged in elopement behaviors, and not all of them were found safe.
But now let’s move on to criminal negligence. If you believe dictionary.com, criminal negligence is “recklessly acting without reasonable caution and putting another person at risk of injury or death (or failing to do something with the same consequences).” To be fair, the laws vary from state to state as to what actually constitutes criminal negligence as it often has to have a higher degree of culpability than just plain old simple negligence, and in some cases, state law will define it to make sure that it is “disregarding known or obvious risks to human life and safety.”
So that’s clear now, right? Time to move onto secondly…
There were two cases this past week, both in Texas, that are to me absolutely horrifying.
In the first, here in the Houston area, a 57-year-old woman who is autistic, cannot speak, and suffers from a heart condition, was left in the back of a van for five hours. Her driver was supposed to take her to an adult day care. Instead, he left her. At this point, no charges have been filed, and in this version of the article, it makes it sound like an accident. But in a version that has since been removed, family members had commented on the fact that she had bruises and injuries as well, making them fear that it was more than just leaving her in the van. Is that part true? I don’t know – news isn’t always accurate. However, at this point, she is unconscious and in the hospital with no statement on whether or not they think she will survive.
In the second, up in Dallas, a man (age currently unknown) with special needs and “the mental capacity of a small child” was found dead after he’d been abandoned in a Honda CRV. The home he’d been living is was supposed to drop him off somewhere off-site for the day; apparently the neglected to do so and neglected to notice him all the way back to the home, and then they further neglected to notice he was still there when they parked and went inside. It was at least five hours for him in that heat.
I’m just absolutely horrified that this happened not once, but twice, and both times here in Texas. What does this say about the “homes” these people are living in and the care they are receiving?
Hubert Humphrey once said, “The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
I think we can tell how moral Texas is. We do not have enough laws in place to protect those who need protection, and when there is a breakdown and rules and laws are not followed, there is no follow-through on those protections. Why has no one been charged? How do you forget another human being? These are adults; they are noticeable, and they have special needs that need to be taken into consideration. Yet somehow in both cases, they were ignored, and being ignored led to one being hospitalized and one being killed.
Obviously, this hits home for me. I worry about what will happen to Simon one day in the future. Will he get ignored and left in a van? Will he be mistreated by caregivers? Will anyone step up for him or stand up for his rights and needs?
I can only imagine how the families feel, and I can only imagine what the individuals went through during their ordeals.
What I don’t have to imagine is what should happen next.
We need to know when these things happen, and we need to make noise about it. We need to be vocal about what is happening around us and what needs to happen in response. If these were more heavily reported and spoken about, maybe something could change. Maybe those of us who rely on other caregivers will not have to be constantly living in fear that someone else’s mistake will become suffering for our family members.