Dig this: April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) and April is also known to many as Autism Awareness Month. This multiple part story/part guide, written in honour of The Six Degree Project (Autism Awareness Celebrity Campaign) and WAAD, is the tale (with tips) of how we got to the end of the portage with our son. With hopes to help raise awareness about autism and the extra challenge it brings to lives of many families, including ours; we also hope this Making Room For Autism In Your Canoe "series" helps to inspire other families to get out there and live their dreams as best as they are able - because even though, with autism, our lives are different - they shouldn't be less. ~Fiona
Paddling & Planning For A Meltdown
Meltdowns can come at the most unexpected time and in the most unfavourable places. Plan for the worst and stay closer to the shoreline when you paddle with someone with autism, especially if the person does not have much experience in a canoe. If you are out in the middle of a large lake and a meltdown occurs - there is a possibility of tipping the canoe and it's cargo into the depths, ending in a very serious life-threatening situation. If you paddle closer to shore, not only will the trip become more visually interesting (along with an increased chance of spotting wildlife), but you will be safer as well. If you stick closer to shore, a meltdown situation can be steered towards the shallows or shore edge - protecting the person who is out of control, you and your gear from a potentially dangerous situation. Similarly, precautions must be used if the person is an escapist - or runner. Tying the zipper ends together with a short length of rope with a small bear bell attached, can give you enough time to wake-up and hear if someone is trying to escape from the tent at night. Making sure there is one person, at all times, who is watching the camp throughout the day is also a good strategy. Mike and I would frequently make sure that one of us was aware of Makobe's movements at all times and that he always remained within sight and on site.
Electronics can serve a real need in the wilderness with autism.
Accessibility & Communication in the Great Outdoors
Many families would agree one of the greatest technological advancements for special needs learning and communication came with the iPad. Even more so with an iPad2 (which includes a camera). For those who have come to rely on an electronic device (like an iPad/iTouch/iPhone) for their communication needs or visual aids, a canoe trip may seem like an impossibility. However, with the multitude of choices that are now available for charging devices by way of solar, battery packs, or even the new Biolite stove, plus the availability of waterproof protective covers, the portage has been opened to us all! The great thing about being able to bring along a device that takes pictures (paired with an app that allows you to create visual aids and social stories on the fly) is that you can customize your visual aids as needed on trip. Also, if the device also carries apps used in their autism intervention programs, you can continue schooling right at the campsite without having to cart around any heavy materials or supplies - thus keep some of the same routine as at home. Being able to bring along a much needed device like this, allows for greater communication and much longer trips. So while we are advocates for the special needs of our son and the increased quality of life that an iPad brings to our family, we do not use the internet while on a canoe trip. After all, we want our son to connect with Nature while we are in the bush, not Youtube!
Coming next: Paddling and Eating
Coming next: Paddling and Eating
Written by Fiona Westner-Ramsay in support of The Six Degree Project Autism Awareness campaign.
To read all the parts to this story guide, click here: Making Room For Autism In Your Canoe
To read our report from Makobe's first wilderness trip into Algonquin, please click here: Making Room For Autism In Your Canoe - A Trip Report
**Stim(s) or Stimming are the terms most used to describe a self-stimulatory behaviour or activity that is performed repetitively and usually to the alienation of others. Examples can be screaming, hand-flapping, finger play, rocking, spinning, lining up objects, verbal behaviour, etc.