Christine Czaja’s autistic son, Bode Taylor, was 3 when he wandered away from home for the first time.
“We were outside on the deck. There are gates everywhere that we installed for Bode. There is a gate on the outside deck. My daughter had come in the house real fast, and she left the gate open, and he wandered right to the front of the house,” said Czaja, 41, of Upper Township.
There was a line of traffic backed up in front of her house. Czaja thought the worst.
“We were like ‘Oh my God,’” said Czaja. But the family was lucky. Someone had seen the child in the road, stopped and picked him up and carried the boy home.
Czaja remained vigiliant in the years that followed, but it wasn’t enough. Bode’s wandering turned deadly when the boy left his gated backyard play area, maneuvered past the pool gate and accidently drowned. He was one month shy of his fifth birthday.
One in 68 children is identified with autism spectrum disorder. It’s estimated to affect more than 2 million people in the U.S. While autism is gaining more attention, the tendency for children with the condition to wander away from home or bolt is little known to the general public. Children with autism often have an extreme attraction to water and busy streets, which is made even more dangerous by them having little to no concept of danger. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children with autism.