Autism is most certainly an adventure – every day brings something new and different. Every day we move forward in one area and backwards in another.
It’s ironic, though – many children on the spectrum are not adventuresome…not at all.
Last summer I decided to surprise the children and take them on an adventure.
Problem #1 – Surprises are not welcome.
Reasoning #1 – Tucker is not the only child in my house. I know I’ll have to deal with the fallout from him – but I have to balance that with Estelle’s ‘right’ to experience surprises.
Problem #2 – Schedule are important.
Reasoning #2 – Tucker is not the only child in my house. I know I’ll have to deal with the fallout from him – but I have to balance that with Estelle’s ‘right’ to spontaneous adventures.
Problem #3 – What if he refuses?
Reasoning #3 – We have the TOTALLY AWESOME bonus brother with us. He will continue with Estelle if I have to stay back with Tucker.
Specifically for today? Some children are quite fearful of going up or down stairs or walking on an uneven surface. (http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/sensory-processing-disorder-checklist.html)
So, on one warm June day last year we decided to take a trip to Niagara Cave in Harmony, Minnesota. From their website, “Niagara Cave is one of the most fascinating and unique geological attractions in the United States. In fact, it has been rated one of the top ten caves in the United States by many outdoor activity rating sites! During the one hour, one mile, guided tour visitors will witness an underground stream leading to a waterfall nearly 60 feet high, stalactites both delicate and massive, calcite flowstone, several fossils that have been dated to over 400 million years. Niagara Cave is a constant 48 degrees F (9 degrees C), so a light jacket or sweatshirt is suggested.
Proper walking shoes are required, flip flops and Crocs are not recommended. High Heels and bare feet are not allowed. If you have a heart condition, difficulty taking steps, severe asthma, or any condition that may hinder your ability to walk one mile and descend and climb a total of 250 stairs in an environment with high humidity, we do not recommend that you take the tour.” (http://www.niagaracave.com/cave_site_3_003.htm)
Reread that last paragraph. Do you know why proper walking shoes are required? Because it an uneven surface. How many steps was that? Oh, 250.
Problem #4 – What was I thinking?
Reasoning #4 – Tucker is not the only child in my house. I know I’ll have to deal with him – but I have to balance that with Estelle’s ‘right’ to see natural beauty and wonder.
I didn’t tell Tucker where we were going – because I knew he would resist and be hesitant. On the way to the cave I told him all about the awesome stuff he would see and that we would go out to eat after the adventure. He asked if he could get a Mountain Dew. I said, “Only if you do this.”
He, VERY RELUCTANTLY, agreed.
We arrive at the cave. There is a pretty nifty gift shop and a mini-golf course. We wait. I feel my own anxiety rising….because nothing can just ‘be’ when you have a kiddo like Tucker. I’m thinking:
- What if he won’t go down the stairs?
- What if we get half-way down and he won’t budge?
- What if he slips on the first step?
- What if he has a melt-down on a tour with these other five people?
- What if he ‘ruins’ this for Estelle?
It’s our turn to begin the tour. I put my ULTRA-POSITIVE Polly pants on. So much positivity that I’m almost annoying myself.
We begin our descent. He’s afraid. He grabs onto me. I tell him it will be fine. I reassure him that I am right next to him. Now we move to a darker area…I grab my phone flashlight and hold it right in front of him so he can see the path in front of him.
He wants to stop. He doesn’t want to go further.
His voice is getting higher and higher pitched.
The tears are beginning.
We are one-fourth of the way down. Too far to just turn back with causing major chaos.
I’m trying everything –
Distraction – look at the stalactites and stalagmites, look at the designs in the rocks, look ahead, listen for the water, think about Mt. Dew.
It’s continuing to get worse…
Problem #5 – I cannot take this anxiety for the rest of the journey.
Reasoning #5 – Tucker is not the only person in this cave. I know I’ll have to deal with him – but I can’t allow his fear and anxiety to cause disruption to everyone around him.
Finally, I stop and I stop him.
I looked at him eye to eye and said, “Tucker. In your life there are and will continue to be moments that will be scary and uncertain. I have never left you in those moments. I’m not going to stop now, or ever. You have one chance to see all of the awesomeness in this cave. I know it’s hard for you. I get that. I want you to see the wonders of the world. I need you to know all of the amazing things that are out there. Now, we are going to do this together – hand in hand. When we are finished we will go find a burger joint and have Mt. Dew. When we are finished I will not ask you to do this again. Let’s do this.”
With tears in his eyes, he nodded and said, ‘Never again?”
I said, “Never again.”
We made it – the proof is below.
You can tell he wasn’t overjoyed – but his sister and bonus brother had a great time.
He will never go down to that cave again – but he did it once.
Sometimes in life you just have to do the thing for other people, no matter how scary.
Sometimes in life we just need to be courageous that one time.
The cave was a life lesson more than anything else. Take the thing that you are afraid of, find someone you trust, hold on, enjoy the journey, and know that at the end you will, undoubtedly, rise out of the void.