Autism and Summer Vacation

6 Jul

For the first month of summer, I was reading and learning and generally focused on my teacher-self. But for July, it’s about being the Dad. I mean, I never stop being a parent, but I’m simply blogging it more now. And I recently got an email from someone who is doing some similar things as Jane and I, and wondering if it’s the right thing. So let’s see if I can set her (and your) mind at ease.

My experience is that among all the best things to do with someone who has autism, is to travel. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a kid with ASD who didn’t ride well in a car or bus. Once you get to where you are going, it might be a different story altogather, but generally my experience is that they like to ride. I spent many, many a long night when Thomas was a baby just riding him in the car until he fell asleep. He has always liked to ride. I have kids that I teach who will raise a huge fuss until we get on the bus to go somewhere. Kids that will do nothing else, but when they see the bus, they are totally ready to go.

As I said, once they get somewhere, it is a different story. My son Thomas, like many with ASD, likes things to stay consistent and the same…sort of. He also likes a certain degree of novelty, which going for a ride symbolizes. When he gets in the car, it means something new and exciting. So where are some places to go?

The park is a fairly easy choice, and has the virtue of being free. Thomas loves the swings and will sometimes go on the slide and climb some the equipment. He’s also getting more social, so likes playing and running around with other kids. Even tho it’s with mostly younger kids, he generally has a good time.

Movies are iffy. The first movie we saw was Finding Nemo which went over fairly well, except it was so loud. The next time we went to a theater, he refused to go into the place as it was so loud. The following outing was Polar Express which he definitely liked and loves the DVD to this day. So it’s hit and miss on those and this brings up something important. Just because something works once doesn’t mean it will always work and just because something doesn’t work, doesn’t mean it won’t later.

Jane bought season tickets to the Georgia Aquarium, the Coke museum, the Zoo, the High Museum and the Botanical Gardens. I know that the first time he went to each of those places, Thomas had issues of some sort. Sometimes he wasn’t into it, sometimes he didn’t pay attention and sometimes just wanted to get the heck out of there. But he eventually warmed up to all of these, and found things to like. One thing that I think helped was that after the first exposure, he was given a choice. He could go with his mother to one of these fun places or stay home with his dad and do stuff at home or in the garden. Most of the time he chooses to go with his mother.

Restricted interests are one of the cardinal features of ASD, but over time and with persistence, those interests can be expanded. I’m blogging live from a hotel somewhere in Illinois, as Thomas and I are going up to visit my parents. He is in for some new experiences, and he’s off to fine start. All the way up, he was pretty insistent that he wanted and cheeseburger and fries for dinner. I offered and teased with other choices, but that is wat he wanted and what he was stuck on, tho. I was fine with that, generally, as we are on vacation, afterall. But next to our hotel there was a Chinese buffet. I offered that as a choice and surprised me by accepting that as a good choice. Suddenly he was feeling adventurous.

His fist plate was noodles, onion rings and an eggroll I put on his plate. His second plate he got even more adventurous with some dishes having sweet and sour sauce which he later described as “amazing!” It was a breakthrough of sorts. He decided that trying new things was pretty neat. So we’ll see how the rest of the trip goes.

Sometimes you never can tell what our kids will pick up or what they are attending to. While Thomas often misses obvious things (like we don’t barge in on people in the toilet stall at rest area bathrooms) he picks up on other things like the friendly waiter at the Chinese restaurant who wanted to help him learn how to use chopsticks.

So what do you do if you’re a parent who wants to enrich your child but he/she doesn’t seem interested? I say continue to introduce various novel experiences and then make subsequent visits something that is more optional. After visiting several places of interest, offer choices. You might be surprised when they choose something that they previously didn’t have a lot of interest in. And then be prepared for them to fix and glom onto new things that you never expected. For Thomas, this happened when he went to the Georgia Aquarium and saw the Titanic exhibit. At first he didn’t really like it that much. Then he liked it. Then he really liked it. Then he really, really really liked it, that is he got obsessed with everything Titanic. He can tell you what time it went down, who the captain was, how many drowned and how many survived as well as the fate of the two sister ships. And he continues to obsess on it. You never can tell.

The splinterizing of attention and skills is another cardinal characteristic of ASD that is both fascinating and frustrating. It’s basically an adventure for the rest of us who don’t think or learn that way.

7 Responses to “Autism and Summer Vacation”

  1. Leila at 11:16 pm #

    Thank you so much for your post. Sometimes I feel discouraged thinking my son will miss out on so many experiences, but then on another occasion he’ll enjoy and excel on things I never imagined he could do. Sometimes I use those fixations in order to expand his repertoire too (for instance, he loves that show Caillou and because of that I got him totally excited to go to the beach this year – he wasn’t keen on it last Summer).

  2. Daniel Dage at 6:48 am #

    Caillou—AAAAHHHH! That kid is SO whiny! We get lots of scripting from that show here. But I know what you mean by using the interests as toe-holds to expand. My son goes through fits and starts, where sometimes he’s keen for adventure and other times he wants everything the same. His developmental trajectory isn’t as different as it is delayed and spikey.

  3. Leila at 11:17 am #

    I know… Now everyday he says “I don’t WANT to take a bath” and runs away from me, just to copy one of the episodes. But it’s still a progress from before when he said “No bath…” He’s using more complete sentences and applying the Caillou scripts to appropriate situations.

  4. Erin at 2:30 am #

    Hi Dan,

    Wow. It sounds like you’re having a busy summer, and it sounds like the boys are having a blast. I sent you an e-mail a couple days ago, and I know you said you were bad about checking it, so I thought maybe this would be a good way to let you know. I’m interested to see what your answer to the question I have for you might be, as I would like to devote an entire post to your answer, if you don’t mind.

    Also, thanks for including me on the blogroll. You’re on mine, too!

    Stay in touch, and thanks for all your hard work all the time for the betterment of our special children and their lives!

    • Daniel Dage at 6:49 am #

      I got something all ready to go, now that we’re back in GA. I’ll be posting it real soon.

  5. KJ at 10:18 pm #

    We adopted three boys with various forms of autism and appreciate those who would blog on such an important subject. People more than ever need to be informed about autism and what life is like for those so affected since this debilitating condition seems to be on the rise.

    • Daniel Dage at 6:54 am #

      Thanks for visiting and commenting onme, KJ! I think one of the primary aims of this blog is to help make autism less debilitating and less scary. It will always be challenging, though. Wow, that’s really something adopting 3 boys with aith ASD!

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