It may have taken a while but this autism family’s dream finally came true a couple of weekends ago. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, it’s not even my husband’s but I have been dreaming about, planning and practising for this for more years than I can remember. Camping.
A few weekends ago, on an holiday long weekend, we joined our friends who are seasoned campers for our first ever family camping trip. My kids like to argue over whether this was our first time camping or not and they do have a point.
When I had my kids, I looked forward to being able to introduce them to the things I enjoyed doing like travelling and the great outdoors. I wanted us to be able to take off and spend a weekend camping, exploring the woods and making up games, the way I grew up, way back before we had a gazillion electronic gadgets to entertain us.
When my oldest son was diagnosed with autism, camping seemed like lunacy! For starters, he liked his things just so. His sensory challenges and anxiety meant that he preferred it if I took exactly the same route from his daycare to our house, he slept on his bed in his room with his toutou, ate only food of a certain texture, blocked off certain sounds and sights that bothered him, avoided touching certain textures and so many other challenges that all added up to camping being a crazy idea for us.
All those years ago, I did an exercise where I imagined doing my dream activity and had to describe each step. I chose camping at a provincial park less than two hours away. (I wish I hadn’t hand written it and could see exactly what I wrote). I remember writing about the drive there and that when it starts to rain and I put the wipers on, my son has a meltdown that’s so intense that he manages to wriggle out of his seat belt with a lock that’s supposed to stop him from doing exactly that. I wrote about having to stop in the middle of the highway. I wrote about making it to the campsite and by the time we had registered we were all so exhausted from getting there that we had to turn around and head back home. That’s how a camping trip would have turned out for our family a few years ago.
Not so a couple of weekends ago. We actually got to pitch our tent and spend a couple of nights in it. The boys covered miles and miles on their scooters around the circle that we camped on. My oldest conquered initial hesitation, with a little help from our friend’s daughter, and started riding his new, bigger bike with no training wheels. There was no stopping him then. He rode his bike, my bike any bike.
There was frolicking on the beach, battling mosquitos in the showers, pedal boating, bird watching, s’mores oozing with really good quality chocolate, games, a walk in the woods; we packed as much as we could into that first camping trip.
How did we get from the camping trip of my exercise to our astoundingly successful, dream camping experience? How can any autism family make THEIR dream come true?
Even at the beginning, when things were incredibly challenging and I could not see a way in my present reality to successfully go camping, I kept the dream alive. I didn’t know how I would make it happen, how long it would take but I still dreamed that I would take my kids camping.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
This may be known as the military’s mantra but that’s because people don’t really know the reality of autism families. I started by taking my kids to as many of the nature parks around the city as possible. In fact, the closest one is officially known at our house as “the forest”.
If you ask my kids they will tell you that that have camped many times before! They are correct in one way.
We camped many times in our backyard. In fact we went through our first tent, just camping in the backyard.
Act as if your dream is a reality
For me that meant buying all the equipment we would need on our first camping trip. I was so equipped for those backyard camping excursions, our friends couldn’t believe just how much gear I had for a “first” camping trip.
The thing is, my kids are right. It wasn’t really our first camping trip. We had been camping for many years.
Just do it
When the opportunity presents itself, just do it. You may think that things are not yet perfect, for you to take the leap into your family’s dreams and they may never be. I really had no idea how our trip was going to turn out but we just had to pack our car and go. If it had been a little rocky, we would have adjusted and gone back again
I honestly believe than when we want something for our families, we shouldn’t let autism crash our dreams. With time, planning, some adjustments, some help and a dose of hope every autism family’s dreams can come true.