The sky had just begun to pale in the east when we set out. For me it would be a 10+ hour drive to Maine, in a jam packed SUV with four adult sized men. I was wedged against the left rear door, in the back seat with my two youngest teenage boys. The physical discomfort of the journey was a small price to pay, or so I hoped, for a week away.
We had not been to Maine for 3 years. We had not vacationed as a family since summer 2011. But we decided it was now or never, time to risk another trip with autism.
The drive to Maine goes well. Complaints along the way came from the older two “normal” boys, not N. Middle child A, beside me in the rear seat middle, was struggling to find room for his legs, but he found escape from hardship in his iPhone music. My eldest son M was more comfortable in the front passenger seat “shot-gun” in the navigator role. N my autistic teen, sat on the right side of A, and was happy just to look out the window and enjoy the scenery pass by his eyes. It was comforting visual stimulation for him.
As the drive went on N began to realize that something non-routine was occurring, and he began to ask “first car ride, then home?” I replied “first car ride then cottage then home”. This interaction, N’s question and my response, was repeated over and over as the drive continued. It was a bit mind numbing after a while, but there was no hitting or slapping by N the entire trip. When N does not like what is going on, which might include car ride related lack of understanding or somebody sitting too close, he tries to communicate his dissatisfaction by striking out at somebody, usually me. Since this did not happen on either the ride to or from Maine, I considered the travel portion a success.
I was curious if N would remember the cottage. He had been there several times, but there was a gap since the last visit. At first it appeared that he did not remember. When we arrive he stood by the cottage door, refusing to come in. Once inside, he stood by the door and would not take off his shoes (means he wants to leave). Hands were plugging ears, which is what he does in unfamiliar situations, so that he can focus on the visual sense. Go home?” He worriedly repeated over and over. I replied -” first cottage them home”. My patience is tested, but I keep it up. For a few hours.
First night is the traditional “Fishermans Catch” takeout seafood which we always long for. We pig out. N is still anxious but food always does wonders for his mood. At least the anxious first then questions began to subside.
The next morning N is up with the sun, before 7:00am, as always. While the rest of the men snore on, N and I make breakfast in the kitchen. I tell him, “first eat, then pool”. He loves swimming, I thought it would be the best way to get him into a positive frame of mind, and to know that although we were off the routine, there were fun things to do.
They have the perfect swimming pool at the cottage, with a deep end only 5 feet deep. We left the sleeping beauties in the cottage as soon as the pool opened. I think N began to remember, that first morning in the pool. He went in the water by himself. He laughed as he got accustomed to the temperature (a bit too cold for me). He was instantly calmed by being in the water. He stood in the deep end, watching the swirling colors as he moved his hands about, enjoying the sensation of the water. When he is happy, he vocalizes and I had to tell him to swim quietly. His happy sound goes something like this: oyeoyeoyeowowow. Coming from a deep loud voice, it is not exactly inconspicuous.
Soon a young family joins us in the pool. The two young children, a boy and a girl, are quickly in the pool. N watches them from the deep end. They splash each other, and they head towards N in the deep end. N moves away and the boy eyes him to see if he might want to play. Then the father does a cannon-ball beside him. Water goes everywhere. N thinks it is funny and says Ooyeoyeoyeowowow!
Instantly all eyes are on him. The assessment to move back into the shallow end immediately follows. I tell N to swim quietly, but I know he does not see the point. As more people arrive, and there are more happy sounds, N finds himself with most of the deep end to himself. But that suits him just fine. While I wish he could blend in better, it did not really matter. He was happy and for the first time in 17 years I got to sit beside the pool and read a book. That was such a heavenly treat for me! We visited the pool, N and I, every day.
We took N into several restaurants, and successfully. A few happy sounds brought the usual stares, some loud clapping to counteract the din of conversations also brought us some brief unpopularity, but overall, he was well behaved. In fact he was better behaved than his two older siblings, who complained about everything we did: it was boring, it was not cool, etc. N never complained the entire trip.
While traveling with autism is never easy, never a walk in the park, never truly relaxing, I had moments of relaxation on our trip, and for that reason, it was for me at least, a successful summer vacation with autism.