The Au-some A-Squad | We Venture Out | Written by Megan Elizabeth
There are many aspects to parenting a child with autism that are far more complex than many people realize. For our family, one of these aspects is going out to places and trying new things, and the massive amount of planning that has to be done prior to stepping outside of our home. I am not just referring to big vacations or long day trips either, because quite honestly, those are things we have yet to tackle. I am talking about the everyday outings that are typical for families-
Going to the store for diapers.
Checking out a new neighborhood park.
Heading to the home of an extended family member for a birthday party.
Running in to the gas station for a gallon of milk.
All of these outings seem so quick and easy for most families. However, for families like mine, they require so much planning. There are times where the planning and the prep work has left me exhausted, and we haven’t even left the house yet. There are times when the list of possible issues and things that could go wrong make me want to throw the towel in before we even start. However, my boys deserve to have these real world experiences, and the only way to help them succeed and practice their expected behaviors is to put them in these environments and let them try with support.
So I plan. And I prep. And then I plan some more. I go over every possible outcome, every possible trigger, and every possible accommodation I can make.
And then, we venture out.
Perhaps we want to check out a new park. There are so many factors that have to be considered before jumping in the car to go-
What times is the park quieter to the general public? We need to avoid large crowds because the other kids might rush Asher as he tries out new equipment and AJ will be super upset if he can’t swing.
Where is the parking lot? Will I need to park on the street? Is this a busy street? I need to make sure I can get them to the park safely and limit their desire to wander.
Is there a shelter in the area with water fountains and bathrooms? Asher currently has a lot of anxiety over doors and public bathrooms, so if he sees the shelter there is a decent chance he will bolt to the doors and get fixated on them. I better pack water bottles for them so we can avoid the water fountains all together.
How big is the park? How close are the slides to the swings? AJ will want to spend the majority of his time swinging, but I still need to be close to Asher as he checks out the other playground equipment.
Perhaps we have decided to try a trip to the store to pick up an item or two. Here is how that planning goes-
At what time is the store usually less busy with shorter check out lines? Typically I find mornings to be calmer in the stores, so realistically, how early can I get everyone up and ready to go without rushing the boys and adding stress to the morning?
What kind of parking should I aim to find? I need to make sure I’m parked as close to the doors as possible to limit the time the boys have to walk through the parking lot, but also in an area that seems to have less traffic.
Speaking of doors, which ones do I want to enter in? Are one set of doors closer to the checkouts than the others? That noise can be a bit overwhelming when we first enter.
What kind of carts are available at this store? Do they offer a Caroline’s Cart or one with double seats? If so, is there a specific area where these carts are usually stored? The boys will lose patience if we have to walk around searching for one.
What kind of items are we hoping to grab? Are there certain aisles or areas of the store we need to avoid? Asher can sometimes have anxiety over the electronics department and the big TVs on the wall, so we should try and avoid those sections. If we go by the candy aisle, I know AJ is going to want to grab a bag of skittles, so I need to plan on going down that aisle and making it part of the plan.
Do I have things on me to help with checkouts in case they take longer than we hope? Asher loves watching videos on my phone, so I need to make sure I have those pulled up and ready to go if we need it. It will also help if I have my debit card and keys ready to go.
These are just a few examples of all the planning a small outing requires for families like mine. If we are lucky, all the planning pays off and we have a great experience! This motivates me to keep thinking of new experiences I can share with the boys and new places I can take them. I get braver with each outing and more confident in my planning, and so we continue to venture out.
Other times, we aren’t as successful. Despite my best attempts to predict every possible scenario we might encounter, inevitably there are things that can still go wrong. It might be something that slipped my mind in the planning stages, or something new that I didn’t’ even realize the boys might struggle with.
When this happens, its easy to feel defeated. Its easy to shy away from outings and retreat to the comfort of our home where things are predictable and safe. However, I know this is not realistic. Going out into the world and trying new things is exactly what we NEED to be doing. It’s exactly what the boys need to do if they are going to make gains and improvements in these areas. As a family, we shouldn’t be isolated in our home. We should be able to go out and try new things.
So even if things don’t go exactly as planned, we will try again. We take a few days to recover at home. To regroup. To regain our confidence. Then its back to the planning. Back to the prep work.
And then, once again, we venture out.