Mmmm. Hiking. Our family loves to hike… but Florida heat doesn’t always oblige. Since the temperatures have started dropping – just a little, but enough – our eyes are sparkling and we’re thinking outdoorsy. I love this time of year, when the blazing sun retreats and once again we can think – and act – like normal people.
Anyway, our son tends to shut down when in the forest (or anywhere out hiking). Tunes out sound and sights – basically everything – and focuses completely on placing one foot after the other. Honestly, I don’t know whether this is because his senses are overloaded (smell of pine! outdoor noises! heat! sweat!), or whether the feel of shoes sliding on sand or stepping over roots fascinates him.
Whatever the cause, the world ceases to exist. And lack of awareness is Not a Good Thing. Animals don’t live long without it. People don’t thrive without it, either.
My husband tackled this problem by abandoning all other tactics and teaching our son how to identify one object. One. How to identify a particular plant, or what an anthill looks like, or a particular track. And then we’d look for that item – just the one – for the rest of our hike.
Why one? Our son could only handle one. But he could handle it. He was capable of opening up his senses just enough to find that one thing.
And it was fun.
It’s fun finding anthills. Or a particular flower. Or dog tracks. Sharing the discovery is fun, too. Joyous discovery and then praise is pretty much tops.
For us, it was wonderful. Finally, we could share our love of the outdoors, even if in tiny little bites. And we could see our son opening up to the world around him.
Now, of course, he’s capable of finding much more than one object. But he had to start slow, like many other autistic kids who just can’t handle the world around them yet. From one item, we moved to two, then three. After that, he experienced a major breakthrough in noticing his surroundings and began pointing things out on his own.
Saturday, for instance, he found eighteen interesting objects. Eighteen. From purple flowers to charred stumps to a metal pole standing incongruously in the middle of a palmetto field. Then, of course, we lost him to a big sand-filled drive. Playing Godzilla vs. Downtown Tokyo in the sand trumps any game we can come up with.
So don’t give up hope. Keep trying. We can help our kids develop and learn, but sometimes it has to happen when they’re ready, not when we are. 🙂