Sensory overload and the need for routine make it difficult for my severely autistic son to take even a nearby overnight trip. It’s not that he doesn’t want to see new places, but it’s hard for him.
For years it was difficult for him just to get out of bed, to step out our front door, or to get in the car, much less get back out of the car to interact with the outside world. He was frozen, and so were we as a family.
Despite discouragement, we make it an ongoing process to help Sean join and enjoy family excursions. Having our older son home for the holidays was a rare opportunity for us to take a short road trip together.
With so much hectic activity around the holidays, leaving home the week before Christmas felt a little overwhelming, but this was our chance to visit Monterey and its famous aquarium.
We drove south along beautiful Route 1 from San Francisco, zipping past usual hiking stops in Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.
“Straight!” Sean said several times, excited to go farther than usual. We got to Santa Cruz and stopped for lunch at his beloved Chipotle. Lunch after a drive and a hike usually means time to turn back home.
Back in the car, when Sean realized we were still driving onward, he loudly repeated, “Mel’s! Mel’s!” meaning, “I want to go home!” Driving past Mel’s Drive-in is part of Sean’s “going home” driving route in San Francisco.
Though less panicked than when he was younger, Sean was not happy when we took our bags into a motel.
Walking outdoors being one of Sean’s greatest calming factors, a bayside walk and a stroll around Monterey shops helped.
Gluten free pepperoni pizza in a cozy restaurant helped even more. We were able to reply to Sean’s repeated call for “Mel’s!” that yes, we WOULD drive past Mel’s to go home, on Thursday, after sleeping two nights at the motel.
Sean surprised us during lunch the next day by saying “Notebook! Pencil pen!” He chose two spiral notebooks at a store before we returned to the aquarium to tire ourselves out before our last night in the motel.
I put the notebooks and pen on a bed. He opened both notebooks so two pages each were open, and then drew lines to create four blocks of drawing space on each page.
Next time I turned around, every quadrant of every page had the exact same word written: “Home.” Sean was more at ease after solidifying his message on paper. Knowing we’d drive home the next day, he enjoyed our sunset walk around Lovers Point. We’d stopped briefly there on a previous trip, but this time it was a one-minute walk from our motel.
Despite a few quirky moments in crowded public spaces, the trip was mostly a happy success. We have photos of Sean smiling in front of the giant kelp exhibit with his dad and brother, happily eating pizza next to me, and looking calmly out at the ocean scenery to prove it.
Anxious as I get when I plan trips like this, it’s important to make the effort. Not giving up—even when things feel impossible—would be a disservice to Sean and to the rest of us. To readers feeling daunted by life circumstances, don’t stop trying! Even small incremental progress, and “two steps forward, one step back,” is worth working toward!
This week’s HikingAutism Hike Notes from the archives is Lovers Point Sunset Stroll, a small park in Pacific Grove near Monterey that produces magical colors at sunset.
This week’s Hike Notes from the Archives:
(Original Hike Notes 104): Lovers Point Sunset Stroll
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