Second mini-vacation of the summer. I think these short vacations are definitely the way to go with a kid with Autism, well at least our kid! We took off for Monterey and I felt pretty optimistic about the trip. We were going to meet up with family visiting from Chicago, going to the aquarium, beach and just hanging out. I knew Mateo would love visiting the Aquarium again. He has been a few times and he always loves to stare at all of the fish and sea life. This year he could really appreciate it.
The first day we were there, we walked around downtown near our hotel, and Mateo really enjoys just walking around and seeing stuff. He would sometimes get anxious in the hotel. He insisted that he wear his shoes the entire time and his sweatshirt, he hardly ever took his sweatshirt off the entire trip- good thing we were in Monterey where the temperature hovers in the 60s. I tried to explain to him that we were staying the night there. We all get to sleep in one room, how fun it would be! But in return I received worried looks. But he had fun watching movies and staying up late with his cousins.
Day two we were off to the Aquarium, and it started out wonderful. Not a lot of people, and he was so excited to see the Sea Otters, touch a Sting Ray and Starfish, sit under glass as a wave would tidal over him. His eyes were filled with amazement, wonder and happiness. As the Aquarium got more crowded it became tougher for him. When he gets anxious in these situations he will not listen to anything we say – he will run away from us and throw himself to the floor. It’s hard to bring him back in. To others it looks like just a misbehaving kid- but to Mateo he can’t process everything around him and he’s trying to find an escape, trying to find a way to take it in. And he can’t process us, trying to tell him what to do.
I read on a blog from a teenager with autism that the reason it’s hard for people with autism to look you in the face is that every time they do – it’s like taking a hundred photos of your face and all of your facial expressions and trying to process them. Can you imagine that? Trying to process every eye-brow raise, every lip curl, every crease in their forehead? What about processing hundreds of people around you moving in every direction? I can’t, but I am trying to understand.
So he melted down when Reuben tried to take him outside of the Aquarium, he wanted to be back with all of us, didn’t want to be separated. So he kept trying to bolt back inside. He got the stares and head-shaking. I wish I could just go up to people and try to explain, I want people to be aware these kids have a disorder- they are born with it- they aren’t acting out! If he had a disability that people could see they wouldn’t shake their heads or make comments. A breakdown is so much easier to handle than the judging, but I try to let it roll off of me. I know Teo see’s it too, that’s what makes it hard.
We decompressed in the room for a bit, then hit the beach, was a chilly day but he enjoyed running in the waves. He sat through a long dinner at a Mexican restaurant like a total trooper. Reuben and I agreed, one meltdown the whole day- WOW – what a great day! He still wouldn’t take off his shoes when he went to bed, we would have to sneak them off when he fell asleep. His jacket was a must too. We stayed two nights and journeyed home the next day. He finally took off his shoes and jacket before bed- big smiles, so happy to be home! It would be easy for us to stay at home, not venture out, avoid the meltdowns. But we wouldn’t be helping him at all. Life is full of crowds, unusual places, awkward looks and our job is to find a way to make it easier for him, find the coping mechanisms- whether that’s a jacket on a 90 degree day or shoes to bed.