I follow a yahoo group of parents and professionals who discuss the methods of "Dr. Jim", aka Dr. James D. MacDonald, who teaches us his "Play to Talk" and "Communicating Partners".
We've been discussing the topic of children who are "runners", on the yahoo list and one mom's reply really spotlights the way we parents must hold responsibility for the child's side of the interaction, and gently hand over that responsibility to the child, how we must control boundaries and set limits in the process, and how we parents must be consistent.
Here is one mother's experience in stopping a runner:
We recently adopted a 4.5 year old son with DS. He'd been with birth mom until he came to us. She's been locking the doors so that he didn't take off, and he would every opportunity. About a week after he came to us, he left our home and took off. My husband secretly followed him to see what he'd do. He walked about a block away very near a highway before my husband revealed his presence. Since we have many other children with two being younger than him, we decided that we needed to work on this immediately as it was a serious safety issue. In addition, his birth mom felt that she couldn't take him anywhere as he'd take off from her. So we treated it as a behavior issue and, in about a month, we had a changed boy.
This is what we did. We'd leave our doors unlocked when we were able to provide consistent close supervision, then when he'd go out we'd give him a holding uh-oh ( as we learned from Dr. Jim). Sometimes it would be 5-10 of them in a row, but we never stopped doing it until he stopped going outside by himself.
We also worked on him staying near us in public. First, we didn't give him any freedom till he had learned to follow our simple directions, come, stop, etc. So we used a stroller or hiking back pack everywhere we went during the first 4-6 weeks. As he learned to follow directions, then we'd give him more freedom as long as he'd listen and stay by us. If he'd repeatedly wander away and not stop after a couple of holding uh-ohs, we'd put him back in the stroller/backpack to stay until we went home.
We saw his birth mom for the first time today since three months ago when he came to us. She was shocked at the change in this area. We met at a McDonald's play land and he never once tried to leave until it was time for everyone to go. When we first met him four months ago, we couldn't relax- three adults and some of our older kids- vigilantly watching him at a McDonald's play land to make sure that he didn't bolt.
Now at home, he has the job of letting the dog in and out when she needs to go in or out and he doesn't go outside without us (very rarely he'll go outside without an adult to play when the other kids are outside, but he doesn't bolt anymore).
It was very labor intensive, but very well worth it for the long term results. He's not a small kid, so my muscles were sore every morning when I woke as we'd have to give so many uh-ohs in the course of a day, but I can't imagine living like they had before with our big family. No one would have been able to go outside to play. It was so worth the investment. His therapists have seen how well the holding uh-ohs work and they now use them when his behavior is inappropriate. Someone at a special needs gym class recently was shocked that he listened so well to directions especially being newly adopted (behavioral issues being the main reason for the adoption placement, but she didn't know this) since her daughter with DS was off every which way. I told her our secret and she was very impressed. Dr. Jim gets a lot of word of mouth referral from our family!
We also used this same approach (removing freedom) for wandering the house at night. At first we’d doing the holding when we found him wandering, then when he continued to get out of bed, we decided that we needed to take more action as reasonable sleep is a necessary thing and I can’t function being up for hours in the middle of the night regularly and worrying about his safety. So, the loss of freedom was changed to buckling him into his five point car seat that if he wanders at night( There are seats that go to at least 65 pounds that are five point). Then we tip it back part way (leaning it on a small toddler couch so that it was safe, comfortable and secure). It’s amazing to see him stay in bed at night when he wakes and now he’s not getting up at crazy early times anymore ( 5 am) either as he’d gotten used to being released if he were buckled in at 7am.)
We came to this group for our newest son who came to us with one word three months ago, but we've learned so much that has helped us to parent our other children more effectively.
Thank you, Dr. Jim!
As always, JillY and I are not professionals; this is not meant to be professional advice; it is one mom's experience. Please have a professional guide you with appropriate techniques and strategies as you intervene with your child.
Thank you, JillY, for giving me permission to share your story here.