Relaxing on the beach, enjoying the sun, maybe visiting an exciting new city or taking in a theme park.
Leaving the comforts of home behind for, well, greater comforts.
It doesn’t always work so well for kids on the autism spectrum. For kids like Ryan, the comforts — and the routine — of home are everything.
Whenever we go somewhere we bring along an endless amount of stuff to duplicate the home routine on the road.
There’s the iPod and speaker to play his bedtime music. The air filter to create white noise. The laptop to check hockey standings — yes, even in the middle of summer. A digital clock so he’ll always know whether it’s “getting up time” (6:29 a.m. — Ryan is nothing if not precise). And of course, we never go anywhere without the Hockey Guys.
Even with all these reminders of home, vacations have not always gone well. Two summers ago we rented a lake house for a week, but Ryan barely slept and was bored out of his mind when we had three days of rain. It was miserable, full of tears, and we couldn’t wait to get home.
Last year, we searched and searched for the right vacation spot. We wanted a house where each kid could have their own room to better our chances of Ryan sleeping. We wanted a pool. We wanted to be on the water so we could relax. We wanted to be away from it all, but not so much so that there wouldn’t be things to do if bad weather struck.
We settled on a beachfront condo that seemed to offer as many items on our checklist as any place we could find. We packed all our comforts of home and hoped for the best.
On our first morning on the beach, there were already warning signs. Ryan wouldn’t do more than stick his toes in the water, and the ocean smells had his senses on overdrive. Every time he got near the water he started spitting constantly. While Riley was off making new friends, digging in the sand, and generally having the time of her life, Ryan was drawing stares from beach strollers as he paced back and forth at the water’s edge, spitting into the surf.
Every once in a while he’d come back to Veronica and I to ask if he could go back inside and type hockey standings or play with his Hockey Guys.
This was going to be another long week.
Determined to engage him, Veronica took him for walks on the beach and coaxed him into the water, however briefly. I did the same, with the same limited success.
We had to try something different, or we could see a repeat of the previous year’s misery coming.
The best way to engage Ryan these days is with hockey. Now, you may not look at a beautiful beach vista and picture a hockey rink, but that’s only because you’re not using your imagination.
I studied Ryan for a few minutes. He didn’t want to venture into the water, but he obviously loved the feeling of the retreating waves pulling sand and water through his toes.
I approached him and asked what he was doing.
“I’m feeling the yum,” he said, which may be the best description of a sensory experience ever uttered.
I watched a little longer. Ryan appeared to be trying to guess how far each wave would wash up on shore, and position himself perfectly so that each one would just cover his feet.
I proposed a game, which we quickly dubbed “wave hockey.”
We would take turns positioning ourselves for waves. If an incoming wave touched our toes but did not completely cover our feet, that was one goal. First to seven goals wins the game. First to four games wins the series. First to four series wins the STANLEY CUP!!!!
Ok, so I’m getting ahead of myself, but Ryan took to the game, and we played for quite a while that day and several more times during what would become a glorious vacation. Before it was over, he’d spend plenty of time in the ocean, both riding waves and feeling the yum. He’d even play with the other kids in the condo pool. He just needed to warm up to it all, at his own pace. He slept. Riley had a blast and made all kinds of new friends. We ate dinners together and had “weekend waffles” (homemade Belgian waffles that are normally a weekend only treat) and ice cream every day.
The only tears shed that week came from me — when we had to leave to return to our lives. We’ve already rented the same condo unit for a week this summer.
And Ryan, you better be prepared to defend your wave hockey title.