Just Show Up
My severely autistic son was once so overwhelmed by light, sounds, smells, taste, touch and other forces that we couldn’t see and Sean couldn’t express that he became almost housebound. His fortress was our home, his armor a thick blanket wrapped around him with only a tiny breathing space left open.
A gifted young teacher was determined to help. Our goal: Use hiking to help Sean get back out in the world, walking in places that his neurosensory challenges blocked him from.
On our first outing, the teacher, Sean and I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. We parked at a trailhead Sean knew well from the past.
It took us an hour and a half to convince him to get out of the car.
We spent another hour moving him toward the Marin Headlands Visitor Center that he loved when he was younger. Step, hug, freeze, step, hug, freeze.
Right at the entrance, he dropped to the ground and refused to budge. The sensory rebellion that had escalated over his early teen years was in full force.
We did not go into the visitor center.
We did not take our planned hillside hike to Rodeo Beach.
But we got to the trailhead.
Sean’s teacher later e-mailed me to say what a big success Sean had that day, having the courage to get out of the car and keep trying until he got to the visitor center door. Every ounce of frustration we felt was equal to a gallon of fight-or-flight stress hormones for Sean.
Praise for Sean’s bravery and accomplishment in incremental goals helped lessen my tears as a mom who felt so often that I was failing my basic task of helping my child become an independent, functioning person.
Next outing, it only took Sean half an hour to get out of the car, and he walked on a trail for two hours. The patience required to help him was far outweighed by his courage in overcoming sensory bombardment.
As our beloved teacher said repeatedly to Sean, “You can do it. Try again.” Sean sensed his teacher’s belief in him, allowing him to believe in himself.
Sean has hiked thousands of miles since that time years ago.
Just get to the trailhead. Show up, keep trying, and keep putting one foot forward.
This week’s Hike Notes, Chickadee Nature Trail-Huddart Park, introduces one of the easy trails at Huddart Park, with a trailhead right at the main entrance parking lot.
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Hike Notes 156: Chickadee Nature Trail-Huddart Park
Sharing insights and hiking highlights (Hikes, Hike Search by Area) from the special needs caregiver front in San Francisco.