Independence is our goal!

Last spring break, when my son and I were en route to Salt Lake City on our way to the National Ability Center ski program in Park City, UT, we sat in front of a representative from Nike Shoe. I talked to him about how amazing my son was and yet was still dependent on parents or an aide to tie his shoes for him. And low and behold, Nike was already working on this, a shoe called the FLYEASE. Another really important piece of the independence puzzle for people with disabilities–shoes that work for people with motor challenges! Click here to read about it. The shoe was inspired by a teenager with cerebral palsy that wrote a letter to Nike asking for their help in creating a shoe that he could put on himself once he went to college. It’s a great story.

My son has since learned to tie his own tennis shoes, which as a teenager, is a great great victory for all of us. It means he is less dependent on an aide or a caregiver for getting dressed. He still wears all elastic clothes because zipping and snapping are difficult with his low motor planning, but he can now get his shoes on himself. Last year, he bought his very first pair of lace shoes.

Anyone with a disability can probably relate to my son’s sense of accomplishment when a new task that has been very hard to accomplish (years of occupational therapy spent trying to master this skill) is finally conquered. The first time he was able to tie something was on a hoodie he was wearing. We were in a restaurant and he screamed, “Mom, I am cured of my untying!” We are so proud of him!

 

Ski trip teaches confidence and courage

It’s been three years since I had the budget or the time to take my son snow skiing in Park City, Utah, at the National Ability Center. And it’s expensive to get there from Austin, so this is a pretty big chunk of change just to ski for four days. But, after it’s over, I cannot imagine not having this experience for him. He’s super excited to go and it’s one of the only things that makes him spontaneously talk to people at school.

He’s still enthusiastic when we get home and his teachers and therapists all report that he is more social before and after his ski trip because he has such great memories of the trip and is motivated to talk because of this experience. For someone with autism, it’s a pretty big deal to initiate conversation and this is one of the only topics that seems exciting enough for him to overcome his speech disorder and social anxiety and plunge into having a conversation. Thus, ski trips seem expensive and frivolous when there are therapy bills to pay, but for our family, it gives us a chance to let our son shine in a way that he rarely does–socially.

Each morning as we left our condo to “hit the slopes,” he would gear himself up by saying, “Now I will gather my courage.” So, even though it was scary to him to try skiing, he conquered those fears and followed directions well. Also, he just adores Park City, Utah. When asked how he liked his ski trip, he said, “It’s like we are in a living heaven.” So, I think it’s pretty worth it to him as well.

Trip Tip: If you do go to the National Ability Center, make sure to book your child’s lesson far in advance, as far as you can, because I booked three weeks out and was on the wait list until we got there and almost did not get a lesson. The Center teaches skiing and other winter sports to children and adults with physical and developmental differences. Lessons are very reasonably priced, but it’s just the cost of getting to an expensive resort that will set you back financially. If you live in Utah, lucky you! And a final note, if you think your child will have problems with focus while skiing (pretty dangerous to lose your focus if you’re on skis!), ask the instructor to use the tethers and safety harness. Not every instructor likes to do this because they want to teach independence, but I wanted my son to ski safely more than I wanted him to ski independently. I’ll post a video next post.

The Zoo is a Zoo

Spring break is always rough for my son. I’m pretty sure he fits the usual autism profile of needing year-round school (oh, one can dream) and structured down time. It gets exhausting as a parent to run a week-long camp for a child with a short attention span, but if you’re going to survive the school breaks, you’ve got to do it.

After our spring break devolved from a much anticipated ski trip to Park City (lingering bronchitis caused me to cancel), then to staying at a Hill Country resort outside of San Antonio (reservations messed up our reservation), we settled on going to the San Antonio zoo for one of the days.

The San Antonio Zoo is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2014 and its undergoing a great deal of new construction. It would be gorgeous and interesting if most of San Antonio had not also descended on the zoo on a stunningly beautiful mid-70s temperature Tuesday during spring break.

I would recommend not taking autistic people to this zoo. It doesn’t have nearly enough space for the wanderings that autistic people usually need and everyone is packed in there pretty close. It’s a great concept for neurotypical folks who want to be immersed in the experience, but not so good if you’re autistic and overwhelmed as my son was for our two-hour tour.

The zoo’s layout breaks a few of the cardinal rules for the needs of autism–there is no escape from the labyrinth once you’re in it. The African exhibits are great, but there is no “out of Africa”. Once you’re in this exhibit, you’re stuck and have to go all the way through it to exit. One of my cardinal rules for autism travel is, “Always have an escape route planned.” And the San Antonio Zoo, though lovely and interesting for typical brains, doesn’t provide this kind of leaving and returning that an autism brain sometimes needs to calm down and regroup.

And on this outing, I broke one of my own cardinal rules for autism travel, “Don’t visit places on the busiest days/times.” The zoo was packed that day for good reason–the weather was great and it was a school holiday. I have learned and continue to learn that you cannot travel with autism when it’s most convenient but when you have the greatest chance for success.

Because sometimes the zoo can be a real, well, zoo.

National Ability Center

We adore taking our son to the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah, for the week-long autism camp. They have a fantastic staff and programs. Plus, what’s not to love about Park City in the summer. When I told my son we were going this year, he said, “Oh, I’m a star at the NAC.” That’s why we go. There’s horseback riding, swimming, hiking and great opportunities to learn new skills. But, more importantly we make this trip for the feeling that he gets when we leave. As we were driving out of Park City last summer, a voice from the back seat marveled, “I cannot believe what a sports star I am.” My husband and I were overjoyed.

If you have a kid with autism and you can afford to get yourself to Park City, go. The camp is affordable, it’s the flight and hotel that costs you. If you are within driving distance, then you are, as my son would say, a “lucky dog.”