Arthur, my 15-year-old son, has autism and getting out the house for community outings can be a complex, demanding, stressful and unpredictable journey for both of us.
Last year, on a gray December Saturday, Arthur and I were flopping around the house in our pajamas. The day wore on and we were feeling restless and confined. Arthur started to pace and gallop.
A clumsy giraffe in my small kitchen. His way of saying, “not one more minute under this roof.”
I remember this day because months before this, we had some very rough moments in public. The kind of day when we both return home traumatized. Tantrums in parking lots, meltdowns in bowling alley, aggression in Safeway, bolting in the museum, the sound of breaking glass in the gift shop, nibbling others’ French fries in the food court and sniffing strangers in the elevator. Keeping him safe, apologizing to others when necessary, and helping Arthur to understand the rules of social navigation was overwhelming. I started to wonder if we’d never leave the house—even if it meant terminal cabin fever.
On that chilly December day, I made a pact with Arthur. We were going to spend the next year getting the heck out of the house. I knew it would not be easy and I hoped it would be worth it.
Research backs the belief that getting your child with autism out of the house as a teenager (even minimal community participation) greatly increases his or her success in the community as an adult. (Myers E, Kobayashi A, Stobbe G, et al. Longitudinal measures of community and social participation in young adults with autism.)
Arthur has a lifetime of community involvement ahead of him so out we went.
And here are the photos to prove it.
Community outings work best for Arthur when:
- He has a say in where we were going. I gave him three favored choices—and let him check the one place he wanted to go that day. It took several months to build up a list of preferred places!
- He has a sense of how long we will be there and what is coming next.
- He has many opportunities for breaks, food, drink, and restroom stops.
- We pack a hooded jacket (to block out the world if necessary).
- He wears an ID bracelet or shoe tag that indicates Arthur has limited verbal ability and lists our cell numbers.
- We keep the trip short and sweet.
- We avoid lines and crowded times.
- I carry a backpack filled with the following important items:
-Highly preferred item such as silly putty, gum, or candy to serve as distraction or reward.
-Laminated wallet cards that explain Arthur has autism for those times when I do not have the opportunity or energy to explain upsetting behaviors to strangers who may have questions or concerns.
Disclaimer: Not all outings were filled with adventure, peace and fun. We have had our share of abandoned attempts and hot tears in the car ride home. I learned to admit defeat for the both of us and try again later. The world can be a loud, unpredictable and baffling place for Arthur. Regardless of the outcome of our Saturday adventures, I was so proud of him for simply trying.