I am so excited to share this series with you! M & I have always made adventures and outings a priority for our family and even more so after Y received his autism diagnosis at just 22 months old. At that time, N was 5 months old and had already had a NICU stay, two surgeries, and was an outpatient at two different hospitals, alternating appointments at each every two weeks. Getting out, even if it was for a walk to our neighborhood park, gave us an opportunity to take a deep breath and feel like we were just like any other ordinary family.
I will be honest and tell you that it was not easy. Not at all. There’s one outing that stands out for me and my husband, specifically. We had spent the morning at the hospital in a pre-surgical consult for N. We were already emotional and trying not to let our concerns and fear overwhelm us, when we pulled out of the parking lot and headed to the zoo. At this point, Y was about three months away from being diagnosed and had already been to see an ophthalmologist and two audiologists to rule out different concerns. Regardless of those results coming back clear, we were continuing to advocate for a more in-depth assessment, specifically one that was focused on development. When we arrived at the zoo, there were plenty of other kids Y’s age around us. It was one of the first times we had gone out where this was the case. Usually our outings consisted more of indoor play places during off times or walks in the city exploring new sites, where there wasn’t necessarily as much interaction. I’ll never forget watching other toddlers run around and excitedly point out the animals, running right up to the fence, pointing, or making animal sounds. We looked over at Y who was fascinated with the grass. When we brought him to the animals, he couldn’t follow our pointing. Unless one came right up to the gate and was in his space, it was as if it wasn’t there. He wasn’t excited about the sights or activities that were offered and preferred to sit on M’s shoulders and calmly look around. Regardless of how hard we tried to encourage him to attend to everything that was offered around us, he was perfectly content just running around, or sitting and focusing on the grass, or whatever happened to catch his attention. We were already emotional from the pre-surgical consult and then to watch Y react so differently than every other kid at the zoo his age… I’ll just say that to this day that memory still stands out.
Getting out has been difficult in other ways too. Everything from the length of lines resulting in unavoidable meltdowns, to not having a very specific preferred snack available, to inaccessible washrooms, to not enough variety for our kids and their very different abilities, and more. These are all topics I’ll address in a series of upcoming posts!
While any parent can tell you that outings aren’t the easiest experience in the world, there’s an added level of awareness and preparation required when one of your kids has a diagnosis, whether cognitive, physical, a combination of the two, or another altogether. What I hope to relay with this series is that if you’re in a place where you’re ready to attempt this, if it’s something you want to try, or if you’re just looking for new ideas and tips, you’ll find endless support, encouragement, and a community here who gets it, free of judgement.
I also hope that those who don’t need to take accessibility into account when planning their outings also find that they have something to gain from this. Maybe the next time you see a family park in an accessible parking spot when they don’t seem to have mobility issues, before any assumptions can even be made, you remember what you’ve read here. Maybe you’ll be better prepared if your child asks questions about someone stimming, or using a mobility device, or who they feel is “different.” Maybe you’ll recognize and appreciate the accessible accommodations available when you’re out that you may not have noticed before. And above all, maybe you’ll become an ally, someone who is willing and ready to also speak up for accessible accommodations, regardless of your personal needs, and be more aware of the different families enjoying a day out, just like you!
Here’s a peek at upcoming posts in this series!
#2 How We Choose An Outing
#3 Access 2
#4 Invisible Disabilities
#5 Five Favourite Trails Near Toronto
Please let me know if there’s something you’d like me to focus on, look into, or discuss! I’m more than happy to take suggestions and share similar posts and experiences as well! You can comment below or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).