Vacation and Autism…a father’s sadness

SHORT VERSION: vacation+autism+too much stimulation = came home early…


My wife surprised me with a weekend getaway for the entire family this past week. She secretly booked the four of us for Friday and Saturday night at this awesome indoor water park in Grapevine, TX called The Great Wolf Lodge. This would be our FIRST vacation just the four of us…in the past we’ve gone to the beach or other vacation spots but they’ve been with family or friends and we’ve had multiple people around who could help us with our 5-year-old son who is autistic. But this time, it was just The Fowler 4!

We left Friday afternoon for the 45 minute trip and were very excited. I had seen The Great Wolf Lodge from the highway a number of times and heard that it was a total blast for those who like water, slides and fun—and we couldn’t wait. Melanie had sold four paintings to HD Homes for the model home in Lago Vista and was going to use the money from that to fund our excursion.

We were amazed when we got there…this place was HUGE! It is an enormous indoor water park with slides, wave pool, very family and kid friendly. We immediately got our bathing suits on and jumped into the water.

Being as tall as he is, William was able to go down the slides that are found in this great fort…it looks like something out of Swiss Family Robinson…water falling everywhere, two slides that aren’t too long or scary, but not a kiddie ride. I told him that we needed to obey all rules and he needed to wait in line just like all the other people and he squirmed and grunted but he eventually understood. He would go down the slide and I would go next…so I was able to catch him at the bottom before he was able to either run off or run up the fort and get back in line.

We did that for a while but then he disobeyed and didn’t wait at the bottom as Melanie was coming down the slide so after a while on Friday night, he lost privileges and we went to another area where he could squirt other kids, sit on jet skis and go down smaller slides with his 3-year-old sister.

Our room had a bunk bed and a Queen so the kids got to sleep on the bunk bed—William slept on top and he was very excited. They were so tired and full of chicken fingers and hot dogs that it didn’t take him too long to fall asleep.

Saturday morning we got up and the plan was to spend the entire day at the water park…we had not yet gone to the wave pool or the lazy river…and of course there were the slides, jet skis and the fort with the two great slides.

We quickly ate a good and hearty breakfast (I’m still full!) and got our suits on and went to the water park. William and his sister went down the kiddie slide, they splashed in the smaller pool and then we went to the wave pool…both William and his sister LOVED the wave pool…and his parents as well. We stayed in there and rode the waves for more than an hour…he was shivering and cold but kept crying out for more waves and more water and was just having such a good time.

I was so proud of how he was behaving…yes there were some minor incidents but nothing major and we were having a great first Fowler 4 vacation!

Around noon, Melanie and Margaret went to get some snacks while William and I stayed in the wave pool and had some father/son time. He was doing so well riding the waves and holding onto the raft and just having a great time—this place was packed with mother, fathers and children and I was having a great time seeing my kids enjoy the moment.

After the waves died down, William told me in his way that he wanted to go on the “Big Slide” and so I told him…”we can go on the big slide, but you must obey daddy and stop at the bottom and wait for daddy after you get off the slide and then we can go on the slide again.” Did he understand? Yes. “Are you sure?” I asked, “YES!” he said. So off we went.

As probably 100% of children with autism, William didn’t like waiting in line—heck, I don’t like waiting in line…but we waited and he really did a good job. He kept saying, “green one, green one,” telling me he wanted to go on the green slide. As we waited patiently in line, I reminded him, “William, you must wait at the bottom next to the man in the red shorts (lifeguard) until daddy gets off the slide and then we can ride again.” Did he understand? “Yes!”

As we waited, another little boy, probably 10 years old and his mother came up behind us…he was a PDD kid…I could just tell. They flapping, the lack of attention and eye contact, the noises, and the way his mother was responding to him…we can just tell when someone is in the “Autism Spectrum Club.”

William was doing great…he waited patiently enough, he was so excited, he was obeying and knew to wait next to the man in red shorts once he got off the slide…and he got on the slide—and whoosh, he went down. I followed down the green slide expecting William to be next to the man in the red shorts…and of course…he wasn’t.

When I got off the slide I immediately got “swivel head” and was looking around for William. Of course he was half way up the fort, racing to get back in line to get back on the green slide. When I caught up to him, I made sure he was looking at my eyes and I regretfully told him that he had lost privileges by disobeying the rules that he understood and that his actions have consequences and he was not going to get to ride the green or orange slide.

And there is went…he immediately started screaming, stemming, shrilling…he was no happy. Of course he wasn’t, he wanted to go on the slide and I took away his fun and joy—because he didn’t obey the rules.

After a few moments of screaming and shrilling, I picked him up as he was kicking and flailing and took him to where Melanie and Margaret were ordering lunch. He wanted no part of anything. More screaming, kicking, flailing, shrills…he wouldn’t settle down at all.

Of course there were the stares and looks and shakes of heads from others in line—whatever, I’m so over that—they can think he’s behaving badly or that his parents don’t do a good job of raising him or any other things that people have silently thought or judged us with over the years.

Then he took off…running and water don’t go together well—so I chased him as safely as I could but that didn’t help. He pretty much ran all around the park and down ramps and in other slippery places and I was fearful that he would slip and fall and bust his head…I finally caught up to him and scooped him up and took him out of the park, through the arcade, up the elevator and to our room…the entire room he was shrilling, kicking, fighting, so angry.

More stares, looks, shaking heads…whatever, they can deal with it…they don’t know our situation and I don’t give a darn. Sometimes I wish I could just wear a t-shirt that said, “He has autism” and then people would feel sorry for us or they’d just ignore us…and other times I just want to slap everyone silently judging us as we go by.

To make a long blog longer…we got back to the room, he was freaking out more and more and screaming and just being uncontrollable.

When Melanie got back to the room and he was still doing his thing-we made the decision to cut the vacation short and just leave.

I’m sad. For a moment I had a “typical” child. We were floating and riding the waves and laughing and having a good time. He ate well, he slept well and he was behaving. Then with one incident it all collapsed. It’s 5+ hours since we left the water park and he has not settled down.

As a father, pride comes in many shapes and forms—especially with a child with autism. It’s the little things…the hugs, the smiles, the questions and answers that he gives that makes me proud of him—proud to have a child with autism.

As a father, I am sad when I see all these other fathers and children, “typical” children having a great time—those fathers don’t know how good they have it. If only they could realize.

I’m not asking for pity. I’m not saying my life is the most miserable ever—it’s a good life…but is it so hard to wish and dream of a vacation of “normalcy?”

We tried a family vacation and it didn’t work out like we thought…we had to leave a day early and, while we still had many moments of fun, we weren’t able to be a “typical” family—and the reality is that we’ll never be a “typical” family. Most of the time we’re okay with that. Most of the time we don’t know any different and we just do what we do…but as a parent of a child with autism, what makes you sad is when you see what other fathers and families have…but not you and your family.

As we were silently driving home, William out of the blue said, “go swimming, go swimming, I want go swimming…” and my heart just broke (again) because it was almost as if he didn’t have a clue as to the circumstances we just went through and the grief and anxiety his actions just caused us all.

I know he understands, he’s a smart kid. He’s a good kid. I love him so much. I hate autism so much.

6 responses to “Vacation and Autism…a father’s sadness

  1. This just broke my heart for you guys, but I think it’s good that you shared it. I hope other parents find this and know that they are not alone.

  2. Oh, Seth. All I can think about is how different William’s life would be without strong parents like you and your wife. This is such a moving example of sacrificial love… wow.

  3. Pingback: Success is Possible with Autism | Look At My Eyes

  4. If you haven’t done it yet, I highly recommend Disney World.

    The House of Mouse knows how to handle the disabled set expertly, and your son will almost never be out of your reach.

  5. Thanks for the info. We are efforting a trip to see The Mouse…pretty pricey but I hear it’s well worth it. Thanks for following TheFowler4 Group…any ideas or suggestions you’d like to see in a blog?

  6. Poor kid. For one, he cannot hold all those detailed instructions in his head with all the other noise and movement happening around him. Once he’s over-excited he probably gets an adrenaline rush that makes holding his attention even more difficult. Sure he understands a lot, maybe even a long series of instructions while he’s at home, without extra noise and new sights, but he doesn’t understand the same way an ordinary kid would at his age. Try to always remember that “normal” experiences for you and the family don’t feel normal to him- he has to get his slightly unusual head around new environments before he can cope in them. Go slow next holidays, pick quieter times to enjoy exciting things and slow down his excitement if possible so he can enjoy things for longer. I’m pretty sure no one “judges” you much these days as most have heard of autism and equate the screaming, shrilling and repetitive movements with the disorder. They just get alarmed by the noise & physical fuss and probably feel sorry for the family not being able to enjoy themselves together. Good luck with helping your son cope with our chaotic world – hard job.

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