My Girl Found in the Creek

It could have ended with me on the news as the grieving mother. It didn’t…but it could have. And sometimes the “could have” is painful too.

Whoo-hoo! I was out of town on a girls’ weekend where I could finally relax and not think about autism.

The second night, I called my husband, Greg, to see how things were going. He sounded a little down, but that was to be expected since he was in charge of chasing our three young kids around for a few days. “Ha!” I selfishly thought, “He is getting a taste of what my life is like every day, all day long.”

Greg showed great self-control to not tell me what happened earlier that day with our daughter Lizzie. He knew it would have ruined my ability to enjoy myself on a rare weekend away. He reluctantly explained to me when I arrived home that he had the scare of his life.

He had taken the kids to the local nature preserve to play at the park. Seems simple enough, right? Run around the park and swing a little, and maybe go down a few slides. That would surely pass an hour or two.

Only it wasn’t simple. The park was super busy that Saturday. Our youngest, Noah, had to be carried or in a stroller, and our oldest, Andrew was an extremely active six-year old that loved to run from thing to thing. Then there was four-year old Lizzie, a wanderer with autism, who had no understanding of danger or the consequences her actions could bring.

I had been in the exact same situation Greg was in that day many times before. I would swing Noah in the swing and my eyes would bounce back and forth between Lizzie and Andrew playing. My mind was alert and constantly making sure all the kids were within view and safe. It was exhausting, but worth it for the kids to have fun.

OK. There is Andrew on the jungle gym, and there is Lizzie on the smaller jungle gym, playing with the little spinning things. Back over to Andrew running across the playground to the climbing thing. Oh good, Lizzie is still at the spinning things. Don’t cry Noah; I will play peek-a-boo with you while we swing. Back to Lizzie. She is on the slide. Andrew is now under the climbing thing digging in the rocks. And Lizzie…. where is Lizzie? Oh, there she is. I just couldn’t see her for a minute.

The more crowded it is, the harder it is. That day, just like all the other times, Greg looked for Andrew, found him on the slide, then looked for Lizzie and… she wasn’t there! He felt the adrenaline kick in, but this wasn’t a time to over react. He waited a minute or two to see if his view was just blocked and she would come around. She didn’t!

He took Noah out of the baby swing and began the search. Surely, she was around here somewhere, hiding under the jungle gym or getting a drink of water at the water fountain. She wasn’t.

The adrenaline kicked in even more and crazy thoughts of “what-ifs” began to rush in. “No, keep calm and keep looking,” he thought. He called Andrew over to his side and together they searched everywhere. Fifteen minutes had gone by, and she was nowhere to be found. Carrying a toddler and keeping a six-year old with him was slowing him down.

Greg asked a nice lady to watch Noah and Andrew, and he kept looking. The nature preserve was huge and full of danger! There was a busy street to the left and there were acres and acres of trees and paths to the right. And right in the middle of those paths, there was a creek.

He called the police, gave a description of Lizzie and others at the park began to look for her. They called her name, even though he told them she would not respond. The search became more desperate by the second. Each minute seemed like an hour.

After fifteen more minutes went by, Greg heard someone scream, “I found her! She is down here!” Greg ran towards the voice: there was Lizzie, playfully squealing and splashing in the creek, completely oblivious to the crisis surrounding her.

Our daughter had gone missing, and like most kids with autism, ran straight for the water. We were the lucky ones. Our daughter was found alive.

This wasn’t the only time. About six months later, Lizzie got away from us in an outdoor shopping mall, crossed a street, and jumped in the fountain. She was gone only five minutes, but five minutes would have been long enough for her to drown if that fountain had been deep.

Shortly after Lizzie jumped in that fountain, we started her in private swim lessons and kept her in swim lessons until she became a good swimmer. We should have done this years before, but there was always a good excuse that kept me from signing her up. We had too much therapy. We didn’t have time. She was extremely difficult and would require private one-on-one lessons that we couldn’t afford.

I should have realized sooner that Lizzie’s life depended on it. I could always do more therapy later, but when wandering and water mix, there may not be a second chance.

Written by, Julie Hornok

Julie Hornok is an author and passionate advocate for autism. Her works have appeared in Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine, AutismSpot, Thrive Magazine, Literary Mama and many more. She has also published short stories in multiple Chicken Soup for the Soul books and received Honorable Mention in the Memoirs/Personal Essay category of the 86th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition (2017). Her first book, United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum, will be released in September 2018.

When Julie isn’t busy driving her three kids all around town, she loves to give back to the community by planning events for special needs families. Connect with her on Facebook and

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter.

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  • Jill

    March 10, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    Loved this article, so good and encouraging!!

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!


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When my son was first diagnosed with autism no one was talking about it. Autism was hidden. I vow to change that.

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