Dad-of-two, Michael McWatters, was on a trip to Ikea with his eight-year-old son.
The trip was going smoothly, until Colin suddenly let go of his fathers hand and ran off through the store.
Any child wandering off would be worrying, Colin, however, is autistic.
The highlight of my son’s quick visit to TED today was his curiousity about the daily video view counter I designed for our server room. pic.twitter.com/WGikmFGSRi— Michael McWatters (@mmcwatters) 23 December 2017
"I was in the self-service area grabbing a cart when I let go of my son’s hand for an instant," Michael wrote in Scarymommy. "Boom! He was off like a shot! I ditched the cart and was in hot pursuit."
Out of the corner of his eye, Michael noticed a store employee trying to get his attention.
"You saw me; I saw you. You said, 'Is that your son?' I mindlessly said, 'Yes,' and continued my chase. I honestly didn't give you another thought: I had a visual bead on Colin and hoped to catch him before he got too far ahead of me."
But in the maze that is Ikea, Michael soon lost sight of Colin. Then the panic set in. Michael was distraught thinking about how his autistic son would handle being lost:
"He’s verbal, but his pragmatic language is weak; he struggles to explain things, particularly to strangers. When he’s scared, he has anxiety-fueled meltdowns which make it nearly impossible to engage him.
He doesn't know which strangers to trust or where to go if he’s lost and, as you saw, he’s prone to impulsivity. I imagined him running out the door and across the icy parking lot, confused and scared."
What Michael didn't know that the time was that Chris, well versed in the store's layout had taken another route, hoping to intercept the runaway.
"Your hope was to intercept him if I didn't. Smart move, Chris, smart move."
Frantic, Michael searched the different floors of the Ikea.
"You work for Ikea," Michael continued in his letter. "So you’re probably very familiar with the layout; I, however, felt like a rat in a maze filled with meandering shoppers and Scandanavian home furnishings."
Eventually, a voice announced over the intercom, calling Michael to the rug section.
With a sense of overwhelming relief, Michael sprinted to the rug section to see his son, and quick-thinking Ikea Chris.
"I had to check on Colin: 15 minutes apart, but he’s fine, natch. It’s me who’s a wreck: sweating through my heavy winter wear, panting and enervated from the adrenaline blast."
Michael thanked Chris profusely:
"I felt the need to explain. I said quietly, 'He’s autistic…' But before I could finish, you nodded knowingly. 'I could tell you needed help when I saw him take flight. I’m just glad I caught him.'
“'Me, too. You have no idea.'”
For the father and son, the outcome could have been a lot worse.
"Maybe you know how many autistic kids go missing every year. Maybe you’re aware of the fact that nearly half will run away before they’re 17 (the technical term is “eloping”), often with tragic results. Maybe you just had a sense."
Colin spotting that there was more than meets the eye with a child suddenly taking off on his dad is "remarkable":
"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. You spared us both from excruciating anxiety…or worse."
Michael is extremely grateful to Ikea Chris for helping him out, for taking action instead of judging:
"If our paths cross again, I hope you’ll let me buy you a plate of Swedish meatballs in the Ikea Cafe."