Anyone who has experienced autism will probably be wondering why I would even consider taking my daughter across Africa on a motorbike if she is ASD.
I would ask the same question certainly, simply because such an adventure would challenge every aspect of autistic sensibilities. First is the sensory issue. The noise of a motorbike, the sense of vulnerability in a sidecar in traffic, rough roads that shake the best of us to pieces. Then there is the security of routine and home. On the road, home is where the bike is (with all the sensory issues it comes with) and there is no certainty regarding events. A degree of routine might be possible, however, not nearly as rigid as the one established at home.
If I was approaching this trip purely from this angle, I don’t think I could do it either to her or myself – it would be too hard, too much of a battle, and ultimately counter productive to her development.
However, I do have one really important thing on my side that makes this a possibility. Trust.
ASD children have huge issues with trust, and not surprisingly so. In not understanding our kids as parents and carers, we make more mistakes than getting it right. We live in a world of guess work and desperation to get it right, and for an ASD child, certainly as I have learnt with Sofia, the perception can only be that of not being understood.
In terms of travel, I took Sofia on a 2 month trip to South East Asia when she was two, when I had no idea of what her world was like for her. It was 2 months of stress, after which she didn’t trust me, and I was resolved never to do anything like that again.
I know Sofia doesn’t feel completely understood by me now even, I but I do get it right more often than not now that she is older and I have learnt, so when the opportunity came to take her on a cruise, I knew it would be the perfect situation for her. An constant environment which afforded her a degree of freedom, whilst at the same time exposing her to new places and new things. It was a success. And the most important thing she learnt was, trying new things was a good thing. That she liked almost all of the new things she was exposed to with only one or two exceptions. She also learnt that the middle thing, that which she neither loved or hated, was alright as well. She no longer had to be so emphatic, the middle thing was something she no longer needed to reject.
On return from this trip I resolved to take her on a road trip next summer – this has developed into a full blown adventure across Africa over a period of months. I haven’t lied to her, I have made it clear to her that it will be difficult at times, but she is still very much with the idea. I am certain she is unsure on some level, but she is not judging it before she does it, because she now knows that it may well be worth the effort. She trusts that I won’t do something that would be a really bad thing for her – that actually she will be exposed to new things that she likes.
So with all this in mind, I am confident that we can work through this trip. That she will endeavor to get the best out of it rather than look for the worst and shut down. I know that she will feel really challenged at times, but I am certain that I can help her through it. I know I will be challenged personally as well as a parent too, but I have come to understand that square pegs don’t fit into round holes, so if we end up in a situation where I feel like that is what is happening, I know to stop, re-assess, and look for the square hole to the next part of the journey.
At the end of this trip, I am sure Sofia will be joyous to get home, and when she gets home, she will be so much more confident and knowing about herself, her limits and her capabilities. The ASD will be something she will be starting to work with, rather than fighting against. The cruise introduced her to flexibility towards her environment, I am hoping that she will build on this but more than that, be accepting and more flexible towards people as well.
Could this all go horribly wrong? could she flip out and become more trapped in her ASD prison? It is a possibility yes. But if we stop living based on the possibilities of what could go wrong, then what would be the point of living? At some point we have to trust ourselves and those we love as being capable of doing amazing things.