I’m thankful for great neighbors – An ASD Thanksgiving

Happy belated Thanksgiving everyone! The 2022 Thanksgiving at the Varecka home will certainly never be forgotten! Let me tell you why!

As I’ve said before, with Gavin, it’s just easier to host major holidays at our home. He’s happiest here, the house is pretty well set up for him to have the things he needs and wants and honestly, it’s a bit Gavin proofed. The Gavin proofing was mostly for him as a younger kiddo so there are some things out of reach or secured a bit more than usual. But as he’s getting older the need for some of these things isn’t what it was and he’s getting more and more free in our home, which is great! While we love visiting our family and friends, keeping G comfy and around his stuff is just a bit easier on all and allows us all more opportunity to relax and enjoy the day.

So last night, we were getting ready for dinner, just after 5. We’ve got 13 People at the house at this point and we’re all just enjoying one another. The Bills had won the game, we were having some drinks, cleaning up the munchies and getting ready for the main event of dinner. I’m in and out to the grill and everyone is putting all the food out. Typical Thanksgiving and running well. I’m carving up the second turkey which was the last thing to do before we eat when I heard someone proclaim there is someone at the door.

So, it’s noisy in the house and one of our girls and her partner are at the door with a look on their faces. There’s a woman I don’t recognize on the front step walking down to the front yard. That’s when she asks a couple questions, I promise I’ll never forget. Normally, I make light of a lot in our lives because, well, I must in order to keep some sanity. This life isn’t easy but this one, was no screwing around. So, this woman lives around the corner from us, but I don’t really know her, and she asks if anyone is missing a little boy………. Then asks if I’m dad……. That’s when the panic sets in. My daughter Doria, her partner Morgan and I all ran out of the house and caught up to the neighbor.

At this point while walking around the corner, she informs us that her neighbor called her. The second neighbor saw a young boy, Gavin, taking a stroll down the street with his iPad. Knowing the first neighbor has an autistic son a bit younger than G she reached out for help. The first neighbor to catch up with G quickly realized he was non-verbal and while he didn’t run, he wasn’t too interested in being held up. She was amazing and took a stroll, while the other came to our house as she knew of G to check in as to his status. We all had many words I really shouldn’t repeat but I was thankful my fears were quickly put aside as he was safe and being taken care of as best, they could. So, it was a matter of getting to him.

Gavin walked close to ¼ of a mile last night at 5:15pm in the dark in his black Buffalo Bills t-shirt and sweatpants with no shoes or socks which is what he prefers. When I got to G his sisters were there, they had gotten him to stop, and he was sitting on the sidewalk. Literally fighting back my tears I found G to be just fine. He seemed relaxed and once he saw me, he reached out with his hand. That was when the tears showed up, for me of course. I got him up while trying to remain calm. I explained it was time to get home and he seemed good. So, both neighbors offered their sandals and crocs but G wasn’t into it. So, all 88lbs of this beautiful little boy was lifted up on my shoulders as his feet were very cold! We walked back to the house like this for the same ¼ of a mile. At that point I realized 2 things, 1) I’m old and 2) Joreen lost over 80 lbs and after carrying that on my shoulders, I can tell you that is a lot of stress off the body. The walk back was emotional for us all.

Doria fell back a bit and she was emotional for sure. Morgan was quiet, but she was worried about G and Doria. I was a mess in my own way as my head couldn’t wrap my head around what just happened. There we were, emotional, shaking, and with a little guy who just scared the hell out of us all and we had to go home to a house full of family. Thank goodness everyone was understanding and patient in addressing us upon our return. That loud home was silent but, thank goodness Gavin was safe and back home. At that point the three of us on “the walk” all took a minute to get it together in our own way. We spoke to the core people there, hugged and thanked god for what had happened. Upon my return to the kitchen all I could say to our guests was EAT! Please just eat….

Back to the start of the day…. We had shared in our family text group a news story of a 5-year-old non-verbal, autistic child in Orlando where we lived when Gavin was born. He had wandered away from his home, but sadly, his story’s ending wasn’t nearly as good as Gavin’s. We hear these stories all the time and I will tell you, it’s one of the very worst feelings and fears of any family like ours. This happened one time before with Gavin. He didn’t get out of the house, but it felt like he had and for those seconds I was alone until I found him, it was horrible. Our thoughts are with the family in Florida who didn’t get a happy ending. We were lucky.

After the dust settled, we looked through the videos at the house and found out that G went into the garage, past a bunch of us to get there, pushed the button and opened the garage door. He walked right down the driveway and took the path we do many times on walks with him. We have all kinds of locks, we have cameras and we had 12 adults at the house but guess what, we looked away and just assumed someone had eyes on our beautiful boy. This was extremely unfortunate and was avoidable. Shame on us!!

Today we’re working on solutions to further ensure it won’t happen again. As Gavin gets bigger and stronger it’s harder but we must be ahead of him, just in case. We can’t assume someone has eyes on G, we must all be aware. For our neighbors, thank you. Thank you for noticing and thank you for being calm with Gavin. A note to other families like ours, make sure your neighbors are aware and know your kiddo! It truly could make the difference between a learning experience and a tragic one! We are thankfully lucky to have had a learning opportunity on Thanksgiving 2022.

Going around the table at dinner asking everyone what they were thankful for wasn’t necessary this year. We love this boy with all we have. We’re far from perfect but I’m thankful there are amazing people in the neighborhood who get it and aren’t afraid to jump in.

With all our love, Gavin’s Voice

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