Autistic kids have a tendency to run off. I should know. I had an incident as a toddler where my brother chased after me as I ran naked down the street. In hindsight, the story is pretty funny but my family was genuinely worried about me at the moment. Had I gotten lost or hurt, my parents would have been devastated. So I’m glad that my big bro was looking after me.
It’s important to thank those who have helped us. Recently, Michael McWatters experienced a similar incident (albeit with less nudity), as his 8-year-old autistic son, Colin, went missing in an Ikea store.
When you have to leave early because the birthday party at the rock climbing gym is too loud and anxiety-inducing, you celebrate with fries and ice cream.
“Dear Ikea Chris,” McWatters wrote in a wonderful, funny, thoughtful letter to the man who helped him find his son.
“I apologize for not knowing your last name … But please know that I’m extremely grateful for what you did for me and my family on Sunday at the Brooklyn Ikea.”
“I was in the self-service area grabbing a cart when I let go of my son’s hand for an instant. Boom! He was off like a shot!”
As McWatters ran after Colin, an Ikea employee called Chris noticed the pursuit.
“You said, ‘Is that your son?’ I mindlessly said, ‘Yes,’ and continued my chase. I honestly didn’t give you another thought.”
As Colin made his way through the store, his father eventually lost track of him and yet …
File under: when it's time, it'll happen. Last summer, I spent hours and hours trying to help Colin ride without…
“What I didn’t know—couldn’t know—was that you took off after Colin, too, but on a different trajectory. Your hope was to intercept him if I didn’t. Smart move, Chris, smart move.”
McWatters tried to use what he knew about Colin to locate him—he tried the cafe, and a bedroom display he’d shown an interest in earlier—but no luck; he didn’t know where to go next.
“[I] felt like a rat in a maze filled with meandering shoppers and Scandinavian home furnishings. I tried to be nimble, but I sideswiped at least two unsuspecting customers as well as a Ypperlig floor lamp. (It wobbled but didn’t fall … I think.)”
At that point, McWatters became truly worried. He thought that, should a stranger approach him, Colin might have a meltdown. In his confusion he might run out of the store and into the icy cold. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
“I was about to ask for help when something magical happened: a voice from above, a savior with a PA system:
‘Michael McWatters, please come to the rug department.’”
It took the father a while to navigate the maze to the rug department but, when he did, he was relieved to find Colin along with his new friend.
“He was lying atop a waist-high stack of rugs, smiling, rolling, getting his sensory on. And there you were, Chris. I recognized you instantly: the guy who saw me running after my son.”
Prickly astroturf, gray skies, and a soft cool breeze: sensory needs fulfilled.
McWatters checked on Colin to see if he was okay. Turned out, he was just fine. “It’s me who’s a wreck: sweating through my heavy winter wear, panting and enervated from the adrenaline blast.”
He thanked the worker for helping out his kid. Chris responded, “No worries!”
“He’s a funny kid,” Chris reportedly said. “Took me a bit to get him to tell me your name so we could page you.”
McWatters was so moved by the gesture that he wrote a letter to IKEA corporate.
He felt bad not getting Chris’s last name noting that the letter felt “incomplete in that regard,” but he sent it anyway, hoping that the bosses could correctly identify the employee and recognize him for his compassion.
“You did a remarkable thing,” McWatters wrote. “You saw an impish kid running away from his dad and understood there was something more at play. Most people wouldn’t have given the situation a second thought — and I don’t begrudge them, as outward appearances are deceptive — but you did, and you took action.