24: I Hit the Roof

24: I Hit the Roof

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

I Hit the Roof

We feel free when we escape — even if it be from the frying pan to the fire.

~Eric Hoffer

My autistic son, Josh, climbed out on the roof when he was four years old. What a clever child. When I turned my back in the upstairs hallway he quickly figured out how to unlock the window in his bedroom and crawl out onto the flat part of the roof. And then he scurried up the angled part that overlooked the brick patio. (Who said he was low-functioning?) He just wanted to get a better view of the neighbor’s pool.

“Watoh, Watoh,” I heard him squeal when I quickly discovered he was missing. Of course, on pure instinct I shimmied out the window and flew after him. Before I knew it I was halfway up the roof yelling, “SIT PLEASE!’ in my best ABA voice, slipping in my sandals. My fatal mistake was looking down. It makes my hands sweat just thinking about it. In my panic I’d forgotten about my fear of heights, so when I spotted the brick below I froze in terror.

Josh was thrilled about having company. He oohed and aahed over the glittery water in the distance, blissfully unaware of my altered state. There we were, both planted at an uncomfortable angle on the roof — one of us content, the other hysterical — in total lockdown. “SARAH!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. My lungs must have been pumped with adrenaline because they were the only part of my body that wasn’t frozen. “SARAH! COME HERE, COME HERE!” Lovely Sarah was new to our therapy team. She was very sweet and had superb hearing. When she heard my cries from downstairs she ran up to my son’s open window. I couldn’t turn in her direction because I was scared stiff. “GET JEFF! GET JEFF!” And Sarah was off.

It was unusual that my husband was home when it was still daylight outside. He typically returns from a bike ride or from the office after dusk. At that particular moment he was in the dungeon below the house working. After a few moments I heard him yelling in Josh’s bedroom. “SHELL?” By that time my left hand, the one that was gripping Josh’s leg, was starting to slide down from perspiration. It was getting difficult for me to contain my enthusiastic son and keep him on his perch.

I could hear Jeff’s heavy dress shoes clambering up behind me. By this time I’m sure the three of us made a pretty scene. Jeff and I would’ve snickered together if the situation hadn’t been so dire. Sarah was getting an early taste of my family life. (And was probably thinking that climbing was not in her job description.) Jeff dragged me down to safety undone but intact. And bless him, I don’t know how he managed to reach Josh in those slippery leather shoes, but he “rescued” him immediately. Josh didn’t want to be rescued. He wanted to go over to the house next door and swim. We all just looked at each other, sighing, sweating, feeling yet another storm cloud pass over us. Another autistic adventure. Another narrow escape. At least we found Josh this time instead of our neighbors.

I called the handyman the next day. We screwed all the windows shut upstairs except for one. If Josh could speak I’m sure he would implore us to reconsider. He would swear to never climb on the roof again. Especially if we built a pool. Yeah, right. That’s all I need.

~Shelley Stolaroff Segal

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