Autism Unexpected: An Autistic Outing

An Autistic Outing

One of the interesting things about Jack’s autism is that it is largely invisible to the general public. He is verbal and cuddly and most of the time he seems like any other child—if just a little bit odd. He blends in so well that most people who don’t know better wouldn’t know he is autistic. Then there are times when his autism is so THERE, so obvious, that it seems like everyone can tell. However, I know that in reality, most people still don’t see a disability, but rather they see “weird” or not perfectly behaved.

But I am hyper-aware of his autism behaviors and there are times when we go on outings that I see his autism flags flying—for good and bad.

Today, I took all three of my kids to see the model trains at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton. Honestly, if there’s anything that’s going to bring out Jack’s autistic behaviors, it would make sense that it would be trains repetitively running in circles around a track.

Really, most of the behaviors I don’t mind. They’re what make Jack Jack. But it does make these sorts of trips more high maintenance.

For instance, Jack found all the loose bricks in the path and tried to pry them out. And he systematically went around the chain fence protecting the trains and tested each fence post to see if he could lift them out. At the point in the fence where the chains crossed when they weren’t supposed to? Well, you could just see him trying to figure out how he could get away with fixing it.

The folks who are there guarding their trains are pretty vigilant, so I had to keep a really close eye on Jack to make sure that he wouldn’t get yelled at for standing too close to the trains or for trying to touch something. Of course, he did sweet talk the main train guy by standing weirdly close to him and giving the man a big hug. It’s hard to yell at a six-year-old after he does that.

But for all the endearing stuff, there are some things that are hard to deal with. Like when Jack pushed a small child over for absolutely no reason—to see what would happen, I assume. Then there was his complete unawareness of most of the people at the train exhibit. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but he annoyed a few people by just not noticing they were standing somewhere he wanted to be. And he can’t read social cues to know that when he tried to lift a small child to help him see, the child really didn’t want to be lifted.

Oh. And I just remembered that he crawled under the locked door of an occupied bathroom stall. Thankfully, he came right back out. Also thankfully, the occupant was kind. But that wasn’t awesome.

Jack is also a sensory seeker, which means that he wants to touch everything in order to properly experience it. Seeing as how the train exhibit is held in a greenhouse with many, many plants with many, many fabulous textures, it was just too tempting of a place for him to keep his hands to himself. He kept me on my toes today.

I think it so interesting how different environments can bring out different things in Jack. And it’s hard to predict which situation will bring out what behaviors. I treasure Jack’s autistic mannerisms; I think they make him a pretty cool kid. But they definitely make for an unpredictable ride.

Jean blogs about most of her family’s outings at Stimeyland. She also runs an autism-related events calendar for Montgomery County at AutMont.

Originally published on December 19, 2009 at Autism Unexpected.