Thursday, 21 April 2011

A walk in the woods with autism

On the way to Aaron's holiday disabled play scheme today (Rollercoasters is kindly funded by fellow tax payers) we went a different route and passed a park he has been to once. "I want that! I want that park! (Repeat x at least 12)" To which we reply "No park now. First Rollercoasters, then park." He seems content with this.

He returns home mid afternoon, we cook a number of eggy bread and scrambled egg on toast (all GF/CF). Then he declares, "I want the woods (repeat x12)." I think it is a good idea to burn off his excess energy and off we go.

Except the spontaneous Mom decides to drive to the park we passed in the morning. As I look for parking, Aaron shouts "No park, I want woods!” unfastens his seatbelt and climbs over to grab the steering wheel. So off we go to the woods (Hampstead Heath).

This starts well. Aaron wants me to run and makes sure I do the right arm movements. He then, predictably, wets his trainers in the water fountain for dogs. We continue on his usual path however all his favourite mud holes have dried up in the recent good weather. We chant along to 'We are going on a bear hunt..." and he decides to remove his socks and shoes, probably uncomfortable since they are soaking wet and I put them in my large strange-shaped handbag (not my usual one which was stolen from our home while we were sleeping a few nights prior). He finds some mud to squish his toes in. I get him out of it quickly with a countdown method (5,4,3,2,1). We continue up a path - he rubs some dirt into his tracksuit pants. An elderly couple walk past, horrified expressions on their faces. I explain briefly, "He is autistic. He does strange things. That's autism!" They scuttle away, shaking their heads.

We arrive at a junction. I want to turn right, the shortest route back to the car. It is 5:45pm - Aaron normally has his anxiety and aggression reducing meds between 5:30pm and 6pm depending on how his afternoon has been and usually eats around 6pm. The route to the park and then woods through afternoon school holiday traffic has taken longer than I have expected. I produce a chocolate covered ricecake hoping this will be enough of a reinforcer (ABA therapy term) to entice him to go in my direction. Aaron lies on the ground and squirms, shouts, cries, hits out. I dodge the bite attempts. He manages to get up and run past me in his direction. I run passed him and attempt to block him again. Repeat of previous outcome. People hurry past, staring. Against all ABA therapy procedures I relent and let him go his route, thinking this is probably a route he recently did with his Dad and in his autistic mind he needs to complete the same route.

I try to get back into an ultra calm, cheery, adult state of mind (as recommended by my therapist) - he picks up on bad vibes quickly - and we go along an unknown, to me, path and update the hubby via phone who confirms this is a route they did recently and that I should try gently steer him in the direction I want him to go....

It's a very pretty route going through woods looking at a lake below Kenwood House. We near a bridge to go over the lake and I start with, "there's a grumpy old troll who lives under the bridge (from Dora)". Aaron picks up on the lyrics. We 5,4,3,2,1 through more mud and I gently steer him in the shortest direction to the car round the other side of the lake onto Kenwood's grassy slopes - the beautiful scene of many outdoor concerts, other family's picnics and currently walkers, photographers, and people enjoying the last rays of early summer sun (it is April).

Aaron tries to climb the railing encircling the lake. I succeed in discontinuing this behaviour. He then wants to peepee and pulls down his pants - I manage to steer him to a tree and stand behind him to block the view of any people who may be offended by this.

And this is when the walk is no longer just a 'normal' walk with Aaron. He decides he doesn't want his pants on anymore. Of course I, the ex-always prepared Girl Guide have spare clothes for him; however they are in the car.

I decide that I am not walking across the well populated grassy slopes with Aaron in just a short bright orange T-shirt. I think you can imagine the discussion that ensues.. Me: "First car, then other pants. Keep the pants on!" Aaron, "I want pants off! I don't want pants!" All the expensive therapy and school has taught him to express his needs. I offer the chocolate covered ricecakes or crisps again - see I am prepared with reinforcers / food so that he doesn't have a sugar low! Aaron is not interested. I rack through my brain and memory banks for a solution to the current situation. Shoulders! A previous time his dad carried him on his shoulders away from a tantrum and to the car, however I have not carried him for awhile since he has put on so much weight as a side effect of his meds and my osteopath says it's a real no-no. "Aaron want shoulders?", I ask tentatively, haunched down. He replies by walking behind me and climbing. I grab my handbag which had overturned and spilled when I had offered him the useless reinforcers and stuff the items in quickly while 30+kg of Aaron is trying to climb on top of my shoulders.

I trudge up the staring slopes with squirming Aaron loudly voicing that he wants his pants off. I try look on the bright side and think this is a good workout and will help with losing my depression induced weight gain.

Finally, the welcome sight of the car containing the spare pants and a way to get home to meds and assistance from the long suffering husband/father. I gently unload Aaron and reach into this unfamiliar bag for the car keys and can't find them. Aaron removes his pants and starts kicking the car stating "I want car! I want the car!" I empty the contents of the bag onto the pavement and my phone rings - "Are you alright?" "No, HELP!" I cry.

On the bright side, the patient father in law was in town and rescued Aaron and took him home, I found the car keys where they had been spilled earlier, and I managed to sit for a few minutes on a bench overlooking the London skyline and noticed trees in beautiful blossom.

Date of event: 20 April 2011
Aaron aged 8
GF/CF = Gluten Free, Casein Free
ABA = Applied Behaviour Analysis
Hampstead Heath / Kenwood

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