All Aboard the Autism Train

Choo. Choo.

If you’re friends with me on my personal Facebook page then you likely saw lots of pictures where we spent 9 festive filled hours away from home. We got our Zoo Boo on at Mill Mountain Zoo as Batman and Bat Girl, walked to the Roanoke Star, had a wardrobe change at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then did all the things one does at a pumpkin patch the weekend before Halloween. Yes, we had fun. Yes, it was a blast. Yes, we made awesome memories. But it was NOT all fun and games.

One of Caleb’s behavioral targets he’s working on is not losing his ever loving mind when he doesn’t get something preferred instantly. Some of it is behavior, some is his receptive language delay, some of it is rooted in compulsion as well. Regardless of the “why”, the fact still remains that we expect him to do things like wait his turn, tolerate being in line, and all comparable skills one must have to function in society. So, we go out and we practice these things.

This zoo has a train that you ride around the whole zoo in that Caleb thinks is pretty much the greatest thing ever. Zoo Boo meant the zoo was busier than usual so I decided that we would go down and wait in the train station 15 minutes before the train was set to run. I knew that I may be stretching the limits of how long he can wait in line but to my surprise, he sat there for 15 peaceful minutes eating candy from his trick-or-treat bucket chillin’ Batman style. Here’s the proof!

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Then it was time to board the train. Everyone in front of us got on and then “bam!”…….

……the gate was closed literally in mine and Caleb’s faces. The train was full and we’d have to wait for the next run.

#$%*&#@%!*%

You can pick up what I’m putting down there.

Holy. Moly. Guacamole. The next 10 minutes were quite probably the longest “Autism minutes” of my life. The meltdown was for real, ya’ll. I’m 100% certain that it would have been significantly less of a big deal to him if there had still been people in front of us so he could see, oh—we all have to keep waiting. Got it. But the gate was literally closed as it was our turn and he had no reference for that and receptively did NOT understand that the train was full but would run again and IMMEDIATELY assumed he’d been denied “just because.” And no, I DID NOT forsee that I would need to have a laminated visual to bust out my back pocket to explain this scenario (but best believe I’ll have one next time FOR REAL. I ain’t messing around). I must have given 487,463 deep pressure squishes, whispered 982 words of love and encouragement and about 5 minutes in I thought we’d be ok until…….

…..the mother loving train came around but didn’t stop because it was taking a SECOND LAP.

We kept squishing but instead of encouraging words to Caleb, I whispered them to myself as it took its second lap saying things like “keep your calm, don’t join the chaos”, “you got this, mama”, and “there’s gin in the fridge for later”. After 9.5 total minutes of waiting I finally got him to laugh by holding him upside down and swinging him from my waist for the last 30 seconds. He was dressed up as a bat. WHY HADN’T THAT BEEN MY GO TO SENSORY STRATEGY ALL ALONG!!! (I mean that both “lol” and “for real”). Here’s the dreaded gate and the picnic bench that became our therapy table while we waited.

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1 retied pigtail and 1 hoop ripped from my ear like we were battling over an Uber after last call and WE MADE IT. We rode that train like we’ve never ridden a train before, you guys!!!!

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So yes, we got to ride the train. But you know what we didn’t do? We didn’t give up. We didn’t bail and walk to the car cause it would have been easier. We didn’t sulk off somewhere afraid of what other people would think. We stayed at that freaking gate, we dealt with the negative side of Autism, and we rode that glory train for a victory lap like you wouldn’t believe.

I wish I could tell you that’s the only time I had to break out my “I’m a speech therapist but maybe should have been an OT” skill set.

Meet the tube slide at Jeter Farm:

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It’s a delightful slide and one Caleb enjoys very much as it’s his 2nd year in a row sliding down it. I stand at the top of that wooden platform to help him take turns with the other kids and he slides down, runs around to the stairs, and climbs back up again. That was not a problem. He did that beautifully. Until it was time to not slide anymore…..

…..triggering the meltdown in the sunflower field. Another couple hundred thousand squishes later and a mental note to pack laminated visual aides and a brushing protocol brush next time we go somewhere, and I convinced him we would ride the pumpkin train. Caleb rides rides independently and awesomely because he understands that something across his lap means he is to stay seated. He has never broken out a car seat buckle and rides fair roller coasters like a boss. Caleb happened to be sitting in the only pumpkin car that did not have a buckle. *Slaps forehead in a “OF COURSE IT DIDN’T” sarcastic fashion.”*

So, a quick convo with the farmer pulling the pumpkin cars and Caleb rode the pumpkin train with his mother squatted over the back of it to ensure he stayed put. He did. And we had a great time together.

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I want everything for this kid. I fully understand his Autism and accept it but that does not mean my expectations aren’t extremely high and that we will just sit on the bench and watch life pass us by. We will always do the hard things. And in our pursuit of doing the hard things, I don’t mind losing earrings and squatting like I’m going to take a poop in a pumpkin train if it means he gets a chance to do everything every other kid gets to do. There’s literally nothing I wouldn’t do for this kid. Ever.

Before I go, I’d love to give a shout out to some places you should take your littles, especially if you have one with special needs.

Mill Mountain Zoo Roanoke, VA

I am certain that the lovely young conductor running the train at the Zoo Boo knew that Caleb wasn’t just having a tantrum. (Please don’t make me cry by thinking tantrums and Autism meltdown are the same thing! That’s like saying N’SYNC will forever reign over Backstreet Boys and we all know that’s just HOGWASH!). I think from the unspoken look we exchanged when she had to close the gate that if she could have kicked someone off so we could get on, then she would have. But that’s not what we’re about. I appreciate the proud smile she gave us after our ride was over and we, along with everyone around us, had survived.

Jeter Farm Roanoke, VA

  1. Places like that are awesome for sensory input- barn stalls filled with dried corn kernels, slides, swings, a corn maze to run through (cause we literally ran it), etc. 2. That farmer could have told me that squatting over the pumpkin car wouldn’t work….I’m sure there’s a liability with that kind of thing. But I asked politely, gave him a quick explanation of why I needed to, and his lovely response made for one of the highlights of our day, yesterday, when he muttered those simple words of “Why, sure!”.

Check these places out. They’re doing great work for our kids!

I’ll leave you with this. Remember the meltdown over leaving the slide? We got over it, got up, and brushed the dirt off our elastic waist khakis and finished out our day, there among the sunflowers. I figured there must be something poetic about that so I looked up “what do sunflowers represent?”. According to Google, sunflowers represent:

  • Loyalty and strong bonds between two people, as represented by the strong and upright stem.
  • Seeking out positivity and strength, as the bloom turns to face the sun.

That’s us. Me and my guy. A strong bond like the stem, always looking for the sun even when the dark clouds are all we see. Stand tall, my love. Keep a smile on your face. Be strong. And the sun will always come out tomorrow.

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Love and Autism,

Erin

Holler at me!