"Wandering Autistic Boy" or "Runaway Gay Aspie"?
A diagnostic code for wandering that can be added for people with autism or other conditions is at best a deeply troubling development. To understand why, please think seriously about the story of Cameron James Smith.
Autism Speaks, the National Autism Association, and the companies who want to sell tracking devices to parents of autistic kids have been very successful in drumming into the heads of people in the media that "autistic kids wander away." Cameron did not even need to have the diagnosis for reporters to use that frame when writing about what happened when he left the Bob Hope Airport a few days ago:
Authorities in Southern California have found a 14-year-old autistic boy who wandered out of Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif.
The boy, Cameron James Smith, was found unharmed outside of a restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif., around 6 p.m. PT, according to the Burbank Police Department.
He didn't know what he was doing-- he certainly didn't have a specific destination in mind. He just wandered away. Because that's what autistic people do. It doesn't mean anything when they do it, so you don't even have to think about what they might be communicating or trying to do.
But people who saw Cameron, who actually has Asperger's syndrome, say that he knew exactly what he was doing and where he wanted to go when he ran to a gay bar:
The wait staff recognized the runaway boy from the news & asked for ID before serving him a regular orange juice. When asked for his name Cameron told the Abbey Manager, Nick Lambert, that his name was George. Nick showed Cameron his photo on the news and Cameron bolted. He kicked off his freshly acquired Casual Cool boat shoes in the park & ran into Pizza Rustica where he asked to use the restroom. He locked himself in & eventually surrendered to Lambert when he sat a table in the pizza shop.
The story the media portrays is that of "an autistic child is safe today after running away from the Burbank airport when his mother failed to ensure his safe departure". The media won't tell you that Cameron is gay, that he's being shipped away for his homosexual tendencies (again) or that he'll be bullied into a closet for the next four years no thanks to his parents.
Cameron didn't run away from school. He simply fled to the only gay sanctuary he'd ever heard of, hoping that someone there could save him. It was almost as if he was told "It gets Better" by a president who believes that marriage equality should be left up to the state & when he tried to seek sanctuary the universe said "not today kid!" Without realizing it Cameron's only hope was to land on safe soil but unfortunately this young man didn't flee Cuba & the Abbey is not Miami beach aka freedom.
So-- was Cameron just randomly and autistically wandering, or is he a gay kid who ran away because he feels persecuted by his family?
I don't know which narrative is true, but I think the question matters a lot.
Do you see how the wandering narrative has already made it easy for parents who may not have their kids' best interests at heart to get people to ignore the reasons why they may not stay where they are supposed to?
And, again, this is going to cause ridiculous problems as kids who get a wandering diagnosis because of legitimate childhood problems age. Very few parents, schools, or doctors are EVER going to push to remove a diagnosis which gives them access to resources they might have without it. Especially if it also increases the control they have over a teenager.
This is why I feel such anger toward parents who think that feelings are the most important at stake when they ignore autistic adults or act like we are objects.
Cameron's story was told for him by a campaign mounted by Autism Speaks.
Please don't pretend that that might not have disastrous consequences for him.
Don't say I didn't try to warn you.