When Dar first got his autism diagnosis, around age two, I said to myself: yeah, but no one can stop me from showing him the world. Whatever they may say, they can’t take that away from me.
Turns out they can. Or at least, they can remove the joy of it. If I say “Dar look at that cow!” or “Dar look at that full moon!” or “Dar look at this beautiful canyon!” there is absolutely never any indication that he looked at it or has any kind of reaction to it. I’m sure there are less severely autistic kids out there who will at least smile at a passing horse or likewise, but Dar isn’t one of them.
People sometimes say to me, “Wow, you guys travel a lot!” And it’s true that travel often brings out Dar’s good side. But…no matter how far we go, the bad side is never far away. Rearing Dar means always strategizing ways to keep the bad side from rearing its ugly head.
Dar often, often wants to sit in the car. Good news-bad news, right? On the one hand, I don’t have to deal with him constantly saying “Are we there yet?” and “I’m so bored.” (My other kid, who speaks, picks up the slack in that department.) On the other hand, half the time he really doesn’t want to leave the car. It changes what we do. We choose not to stop in certain places. When we do stop, we leave the car in shifts; my wife goes to the site with our NT kid, then I go to the site with our NT kid.
In some ways it’s like traveling with a baby. But remember how traveling got more fun when your neuro-typical baby grew into a child? Yeah, that’s not happening over here.
On the other end of the age issue, Dar, who will turn eight next month, is gradually growing into an age where his habit of approaching strangers is going to get more and more awkward. Right now, it usually seems cute when he lingers near people, when he sidles up to them in a body of water and splashes them, when he kisses or rubs their hands. That happened on Sunday, and now I can still say, “Uh, sorry, he has autism.” (Sunday I had occasion to say, “Lo siento, mi’ijo tiene autismo.”) And the stranger will almost always say “Oh, that’s okay, it’s really okay,” and I can tell they mean it. (I can also tell during the rare occasions when they don’t mean it.) But Dar will very soon reach an age where this behavior is a lot less adorable.
Sunday we drove to the Russian River, which is only about 75 minutes (the way I drive) from our home in Berkeley. Actually, we got lucky in that our chosen site on the river was relatively unoccupied. Dar could tee-tee-tee to his heart’s content!
Several times Dar started to walk back to the car. Ah, the treasured car. We managed to re-direct him to the river for a good hour.
A nice hour of feeling free.
Eventually Dar got bored of the river. He has recently acted the same way at Lake Anza and at Tomales Bay. He started screaming. Add that to the splashing of strangers, and…it was time to go.
I’ve told wifey: he likes waves. He wants to walk near cresting, undulating waves. He can do waves for days.
The Russian River is a lot like most other rivers: it eventually empties into an ocean. We drove to that ocean. And boy, does Goat Beach have waves. Actually, because of the beach’s unusual concave shape, it has some of the most dangerous waves in California. Signs tell you this.
Dar loved it. We didn’t. We worried that Dar would get sucked away by the undertow. And this concern was compounded by another little problem. For whatever reason, Dar decided that he didn’t want a parent hovering over him. When I tried, he would take my hand and sit me down on the drier part of the sand. (Yes, we are lucky he can communicate at least that much.) He did the same thing with his mother.
So after I snapped a few greeting-card-worthy pics, we had to amscray. Sigh.
On our way home, we stopped in a house in Rohnert Park to see an old high school friend I hadn’t seen in ten years or so. I warned my friend that Dar could be disruptive. Friend was like, no problem, come on over!
My NT kid was happy to hang out and play his first-ever game of Candy Land. Not Dar. All he wanted to do was play with a sink and watch the water flow. Wifey was nice enough to watch him while I caught up with my old friend, but these are the moments that I feel terrible about. Eventually Dar soaked their bathroom with sink water. Wifey cleaned it up and took Dar into the car.
Did I say Dar loves being in the car? Not so much when he feels he’s being deprived of something. After being removed from the beach and then the sink, Dar turned our car into a scream-fest. Wifey texted that we needed to go. I had to wrap up with my friend after barely thirty minutes.
That’s the kinda stuff that doesn’t happen to parents of more neuro-typical seven-year-olds.
Can’t say today’s story has much of a lesson. We’re going to keep traveling, though. Because every so often, it makes all of us feel free.