Like every summer, we went on a vacation. Like most summers, it was a beach vacation. Like most vacations, my son’s autism made the trip more challenging. Would I still go for a vacation next year ? Yes, of course ! I can’t let meltdowns and anxieties come in the way of a new adventure.
The first time we went on a beach vacation with our son, he would not step in the sand but water was a huge motivator so he ventured a little bit.
Next time at the beach we got him water shoes so that he wouldn’t feel the sand under his feet. However, we did try to sit by the shore and draw cars and trains (his obsession at that point of time) on the sand to get him to play with it.
Next time around he was much more excited about going to the beach and by the last day of our vacation it was hard to get him out of water. He would also sit barefoot as waves washed our feet.
This year, he swam like a fish and dived in the waves like a pro. He also loved playing in the sand. Those hands that wouldn’t even touch those golden grains were now grabbing fistful and throwing sand balls in the water while we transformed him into a “merman,” packing sand all around his legs. It didn’t seem to bother him. His sensory defensiveness all gone. He indeed has come a long way from the days when he would recoil at the sight of the beach. I would attribute this progress to the vacations that he had and not to any therapy.
I also remember the days when upon entering a hotel room my son would throw up out of anxiety , so much so that we avoided entering the hotel room except to sleep at night. The anxiety has still not completely gone but he does better now as long as the room is spacious and there is a balcony – his escape to the world outside.
Until last year, I could not think of booking a room without a kitchen but this year even with a kitchen, I hardly had to cook. My son was more accepting of new foods and textures. I think he gets it that he is on a vacation and that he needs to adjust and accommodate
In spite of all these miraculous changes there is still a long way for us to go. I still carry a backpack full of clothes when we leave the hotel room because new places make him lose his potty training. We still struggle with hour long meltdowns where we sit on the sidewalk, just watching him roll around and cry and hit himself and us while the onlookers watch with all kinds of expressions ranging from judgement, to pity, to empathy. He still has a hard time understanding personal space of others and so a walk on the boardwalk or the hillside is no walk in the park. He would grab someone, hit someone and find it funny , snatch something off of someone, try to play hide and seek with us by hiding behind a stranger or sometimes be the cutest photobomb in a stranger’s pictures. We still struggle with these.
The crowd and the noise can get to him sometime and we need to take a break from whatever we are doing and wherever we might be. Sometimes he would want us to carry him – a full grown 8 year old boy, sometimes uphill or while treading in the sand. We still have all these challenges and many more and I know that we will continue to have newer challenges while we conquer older ones. So should this be a deterrent or a motivator ? I believe it’s a huge motivation.
I cannot change the world for my son. There will always be people around him, the crowd , the noise, strange places, strange people. There will be new textures that he might not like and new sensations that he might find uncomfortable. I cannot change that as much as I would want to. I also cannot hide him in my arms and protect him from everything that makes him anxious. What I can do is teach him to adjust, train him how to cope with a change and help him explore. Just because it’s hard for him is not a good enough reason for me to quit trying. I want him to feel the waves kiss his feet, the sun on his face, the wind in his hair. I want him to watch the sky change colors as the sun lazily strolls through the horizon. I want him to watch the world under his feet and the clouds over his head while he stands at a summit. I want him to explore the bridges, the caves and the trails and I cannot deprive him of all theses experiences because I’m worried about the challenges that a vacation might bring for him. In fact on every trip we go to he has exceeded our expectations and proven that he has more strengths than we think he has. So, I’m going to keep taking him to new places and stand next to him if he needs me. Autism may continue to throw roadblocks our way, we will still make memories as we fly high over those bumps.
About the Author
Tulika is mom to 8-year-old Vedant who was diagnosed with autism when he was a little under 3. She is a member of the Family Advisory Council at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Department of Developmental Disabilities and also runs her blog at www.braindroplets.com.