About Me

My photo

Just a single mom of two small boys somewhere in the middle of Minnesota. My older son has been diagnosed with autism. Both sons have been diagnosed with awesome.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why My Kid is on a Leash

People seem to be sharply divided on the idea of kids on leashes, or in a 'safety vest' as I prefer to call my son's. People seem to either love the idea, or think it means you are a failure of a parent who has no control of their child, and no respect for their dignity.

Thankfully I've only run into the, "You must be a horrible parent" camp online. In person I've only heard supportive comments on it. I've even had people who approached me simply to ask where I purchased it. 

Lately Max has been wearing his vest to almost anyplace I know will be busy and crowded. It's bright orange. On the back is a patch that says, "I'm not ignoring you I have autism." On the front I have written in sharpie, "Please be patient I have autism." It has a zippered pocket in which I have put a card with my contact information on it. And it has a strap I can attach and hold onto in case he tries to run off. I don't like to call it a leash. It doesn't work like that. It keeps him close but doesn't guide him.

There are two major reasons he wears it.

The first and foremost is that Max, like many kids with autism, poses a serious risk of "elopement."

To me that makes it sound like he is going to take off for Las Vegas with a woman he barely knows. But what it really means is that sometimes he will wander off. Or he'll take off running, a big grin on his face heedless, to everything around him. You take you eyes off him for a second and he is long gone. I still need to watch him like a hawk in it, but the vest is a little extra safety measure.

He won't always hold my hand. He still rides in a stroller much of the time. I think he feels secure in it. He seems to tire faster than my younger son when walking, but I want to give him the opportunity to walk when he wants to.

The other reason is maybe more for my benefit than his.

The older Max gets, the more obvious his differences become. What could pass for typical on a three or even a five year does not look quite so average on a seven year old. Even the sight of him riding quietly in a stroller while his younger brother walks is starting to attract looks.

More and more I find people giving him nervous sideways glances and then looking at me with questions in their eyes, or even worse, hard cold judgement. Sometimes people just outright stare, not even bothering to hide it. I never know what to do. Do I start explaining before they even speak to me? Do I wait for the questions that might never come? Do I ignore them? 

The vest provides a shortcut, explains for me.

Here is a picture of the vest without the strap connected, for the curious.

So what's the point to this post?

Only this: If you see a parent out doing something you never would, such as have their kid on a leash, or pushing a kid you think is way too big in a stroller, just try to remember, there is more than one way to be a good parent. 

Or maybe if their child is acting in a way that you you think is much to young for their age, or maybe just in a way that seems weird to you, there may be a reason. Before you rush to judgement, maybe take a moment and think, there could be far more to the story than you know.

Oh, and don't stare. I shouldn't have to tell you this, but staring is rude.


  1. 1. Ignore them. Let the vest do the speaking. If they ask you questions, do your best to give them a neutral, unemotional explanation, and then pray that they don't ask say something they mean to be sympathetic, which instead makes you want to cry.

    2. I want one of those patches. My son doesn't run. His name is also Max. But he does ignore people. And he certainly doesn't answer questions like "what's your name"? People seem to ignore my warnings that "he doesn't answer questions...he's autistic" and carry on asking him the same question over and over again as if he's going to change who is he for a complete stranger.

    I feel your pain, sister. Wish it was different, but it's not.

  2. I ran across your post on twitter (somebody, I forget who, asking for a source for the vest)...

    FWIW, my neurotypical daughter had a harness and a leash for quite a while when she was 18 months to ... I forget, 3? (She's an adult now.) I'd injured myself in an accident, and if she wasn't in the backpack or the stroller, I couldn't hold her hand to keep her safe in busy locales, especially when out and about with her brothers. She really, really wanted to walk like the big kids, so...

    Yes I got a lot of sneery looks and snarky comments but (as she was neurotypical) it was easy for me to just ignore.

    Frankly the harness/leach gave her much more autonomy than holding my hand.

  3. I actually got the idea to look for a harness from remembering mother's stories about putting my older brother in a harness, and he is neurotypical. :)