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Autism: Gone Camping

We were packed and on the road by 8:20am. The weather was almost cold, and the skies were blue! (if you have been following about our summer, it is the worst year on record for wildfires throughout the Canadian province of BC, and our skies have been so thick with smoke we haven’t been able to see the lake or the mountains around our home most days.) On the drive, we saw many eagles sitting on trees, or gliding through the air.

My husband stopped at McDonald’s and got us Vanilla Chai Frappes (so delicious, though I am not supposed to have dairy – but it was worth it!) We were up at the lake, and unpacked by lunch time. It was probably the best day for travelling.

We got the truck camper this time. I requested a camper… my back, my husband’s knees, fears over the dogs and wildlife… packing things in, setting things up, worrying about weather… overwhelming. Other times I have been up I have noticed that the people we have been there with go expecting to use the campers or the dome; even the young people. And we are expected to use a tent. I don’t know why that is.

So I asked my husband to ask for a camper, and we were given the truck camper for the week.

I can’t sleep in a narrow bed – I toss and turn, and have to spread out. If I can’t, I don’t sleep. It is as simple as that. So I got the ‘high’ bed, and my husband took the lower one (he stays still through the night, and often chooses a couch to sleep on… oh – having my ‘girls’ meant it wouldn’t have been good for us to be in the same bed, plus… we both sleep better when we have separate beds.)

I worried because the bed is so high, but brought different sized suitcases and bins that could make a bit of a ladder for my girls. They even have steps to get to my bed and my chair, there is no way they would be able to get onto that bed by themselves, and jumping down would have been dangerous.

As it turned out, we didn’t need the steps. Our niece and her husband have two young children, and had left a bed rail in the camper. (They weren’t up that week.) It was perfect, and there was only one moment through the whole week when I worried about my girls being up so high – Clara decided in the night she had to go to the bathroom, and was running around the bed trying to find a way down (she had a bathroom pad at home, but there was no room for it in the camper – besides, she doesn’t often use it during the summer.) Anyway, I took her outside, she did what she needed to, and we went back to bed; all good.

The bed was very comfortable. It had three windows on each side, and the girls and I really enjoyed spending time there (when we could; it would get hot during the day.) The girls liked being right there with me – which is normal at home, but when we are outside while camping, they are in their pen, or on a leash, or in their crate… and don’t get so much time to come so close to me. They loved being able to look out the window on the three sides, and spent a lot of time watching the birds and squirrels and such through them.

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One thing I really liked about being up at the lake this time was that we had people around us the first night, and the last two nights – but in between, even the neighbours weren’t around. Though I did enjoy my time visiting, I really liked the quiet while my husband and I were up there alone. Plus, without anyone around to chase or bark at, I was able to let my girls run around on the property off leash (while I could watch them, of course) and so didn’t feel bad about the time they did have to spend in their pen.

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I really hope we can get the camper during future trips. I think that my husband and I are both past the tent camping stage.

PS – the campers were all old ones that the owners gave, or practically gave for use up at the lake. They are not new campers and most don’t actually belong to anyone – so… Well, maybe we should ask around if anyone has an old camper that we could have so that we would always have one when we go up there, too (especially now that my husband is reducing his days at work and will have three day weekends from October on – so it is more likely we will go up often.)

 

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Autism: Successful Trip

In spite of a real scare at the beginning of our trip, I am glad that I decided to go camping with my husband – even if I had little notice, and my plans were changed last minute when a large dog crate came into the thrift store where my husband works, and a neighbour offered to lend us their portable dog pen.

This year, I even did pretty well with food. In fact, I don’t think I have ever had a better prepared trip (and often I spend weeks trying to figure out what to eat.) Unlike other years, where ‘in order to not be difficult’ I would agree to eat what I could with other people, there was no way I was going back to eating meat this trip. That meant separation right at the foundation of the meal.

Instead I opened up three cans – black beans, chickpeas, and refried beans. I mashed up the black beans and added oatmeal, onion flakes, hot peppers, capers, garlic, ground flax seed, broth, salt and pepper. That made 6 ‘bean burgers.’ I mashed up the chickpeas and added onion flakes, garlic, Kala Namak (black salt with an ‘egg’ like flavour,) hot peppers, ginger, and parsley. That made 6 ‘chickpea salad’ meals. The refried beans, mixed with taco seasoning, made five ‘taco salad’ meals. I froze the beans and chickpeas in aluminum foil (I might just freeze them next time in my silicon baking cups to take out and heat.) Then I brought up a couple of cans of lentil soup.

It worked!

I must admit, I did get tired of bean burgers on bread after a few days – especially as the buns started to get stale. But then I wasn’t really hungry, or needing vegetables (I brought up home made kale chips and had a vegan breakfast shake mix with ’27 different fruits and vegetables’ which helped a lot with that – plus, they did have salad, and I ate that.)

When I didn’t want the beans, I could easily make myself granola mixed with yogourt, or coleslaw salad mixed with assorted nuts and corn chips.

So aside from one moment asking someone not to add his eggs to the grill until my pancakes were done cooking – and another moment where I had an allergic reaction when the frying pan used for my food hadn’t been cleaned well enough after other people had eggs on it (not as bad as it could have been, since I am loaded up on allergy medications this time of year – my throat, mouth, and tongue started to swell, itch, and go numb; I took more allergy pills, and had Pepsi (which somewhat neutralizes it,) and the reaction went down) I did okay with food.

As I have said, that has never happened before, and was a huge breakthrough.

So I was able to get my time in nature, swimming every day, watching sunsets with ‘my girls’ from my tent as I wrote my journal. And I really enjoyed it.

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Transitioning to go home was another story – and one best saved for a different post.

 

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Autism: Please, Not Again!

So we did go camping. I had a lot of anxiety over this through the year as I couldn’t figure out a way (that I could afford) to keep ‘my girls’ safe during the trip – and to keep others safe from them. It isn’t that they are aggressive dogs, but they are defensive, and that often looks the same; for Clara especially.

Clara is my baby. She loves to cuddle. She loves to be held. She curls up in the crook of my arm like a newborn baby as I walk, or rock, or talk to her. She is tiny. She is cute. And maybe, people think, this is why she doesn’t behave well with ‘others’ around. Yet for as long as I have had her, I have never allowed her to jump at people, nip at people, behave in negative ways. She does get in trouble for such things – and she is smart enough to know what I mean; I can see it in her eyes. But she still does it, so I warn people away.

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Clara not wanting to leave ‘bed’ to visit while camping.  July 2017

Clara doesn’t like different. She doesn’t like new. It took me three weeks, and many liver treats to fully win her over. Thirteen months since we got her, my husband still hasn’t made it that far. He can give her treats. He can hold her leash while she is wearing it, maybe. He can be in the same room. He can even talk to her. But that is about as far as it goes. My son doesn’t even get that much. We are happy if she doesn’t bark at him when he comes up the stairs.

Clara is ‘my girl,’ and she has decided that as far as people are concerned, I am enough for her.

Maybe she wasn’t socialized well when she was young (she was nearly 3 years old when I got her, and came from a house with many other dogs.) Maybe something happened before I got her that frightened her (they did try to adopt her to another home before mine, but took her back after 10 days for she wouldn’t come out of the corner where she was hiding.)

Whatever the reason, she doesn’t allow people close to her.

“She might nip,” I tell them. (Please give her space.) So far she hasn’t hurt anyone. She has scared and surprised many when she suddenly lunged at them. I don’t know that she would hurt anyone – but I also am not convinced she wouldn’t. So… please stay away.

I love my girl. She is comforting, and caring, and loving, and absolutely the one I needed to help me through and past – even if I didn’t know that when she first came to me. But she is a one person dog – and (much like myself) it will take more than your confidence that you are ‘good with dogs’ to gain her trust. In fact, nice as you probably are, it is unlikely she will ever give that trust to you.

Molly is much more laid back. Much calmer. But it is rare that Clara will give the chance to get close to her. So Molly likely wouldn’t nip – but Clara would do it for her. Best to leave her alone, too. We are her ‘pack’ I suppose, and she would quite possibly give her life to defend us (all 6.5 lbs of her.)

But she is cute – and that cuteness is almost an overwhelming temptation for dog loving children who don’t understand that not all dogs can be won over by kindness.

Such was the case with my niece’s 4 year old daughter who was up camping the same time we were. We all warned her, but she had no fear. She knew that she wouldn’t hurt ‘anyone,’ and was convinced that she would be able to get Clara to see that. After all, she was able to sit and pet Molly while my husband held Clara’s leash out of reach.

Alas, such was not to be the case.

I was sitting on a camp chair. Clara was on the ground resting. Her leash was wrapped around the arm of the chair to shorten it (there were a lot of people up at the time) and I was holding the end, also wrapped around my hand. The girl came from behind us. We didn’t know she was coming until she was there – but Clara was aware. She barked, and jumped at her before I could pull her back.

Away the girl left, in tears and badly frightened.

I took my girls, and left too; I needed alone time. Perhaps they didn’t see the tears I cried that day, or feel the fear in my heart. Perhaps they didn’t know how badly triggered I was in that moment, or how afraid of what would be done to ‘my girl.’ Perhaps they thought I didn’t care… Or maybe they saw all of it. Maybe they knew what it reminded me of. Maybe they saw me then, too – for that happened only feet away that time so long ago – and yet not long at all.

I talked with her father later that day.

“Has Clara ever nipped you,” he asked me.

“Once when I first got her,” I answered, “but so far it has just been scary, and she hasn’t hurt anyone. I don’t know if…”

“She didn’t hurt her,” he said. “She was just scared.”

But had we been there with another person – the one who was there that other time – the one who… but I can’t talk about that now. Had she been there… had it been her child… it wouldn’t have mattered that Clara “just scared her,” she would have had my dog put down.

My children stolen. My ‘baby’ murdered. I don’t think I could bare it again. I don’t think I could live – no, not even live – through such pain again.

Not again.

 

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Autism: Crates and Pens

Well, there we were; three days before my husband’s vacation started, and I was feeling particularly bad. Though I was thankful at first he understood why I thought I couldn’t go – I was also emotionally struggling with the fact that he didn’t seem to care, and didn’t seem to be trying to find a solution. Suddenly I really did want to go (mainly because I had found out his sister wouldn’t likely be able to come into town to visit; and we don’t see her often since she lives kind of far; and she has health issues; and…)

I had spent most of the morning picking cherries off our backyard cherry tree. It is north of our carport, in probably the worst possible location for it. It is loaded with cherries, but they tend to be quite wormy. After harvesting, I took them inside, and spent most of the afternoon cutting and pitting them, and removing worms. Gross.

And then the phone rang.

It was my husband. He works at the thrift store, and right before he phoned, a large metal dog crate had been dropped off. “It is 4′ x 2.5’” he told me. Did I want it?

Now, that isn’t huge, but my dogs are small. A crate with a roof meant that I could take my dogs camping, and still keep them safe from eagles, osprey, and owls that might like to eat them. It would also keep them from chasing all the people, bikes, cars, dogs, cows! And other animals they saw – so keeping them and others safe.

The phone call was brief, yet it changed all of my plans – and I was very happy!

Yet I still wasn’t sure my husband wanted me to go with him. “So we can come with you?” I asked when he brought it home. Yet his response (while admittedly it might have meant nothing of the sort) didn’t confirm to me that he was thrilled with the prospect.

Still I carried on packing.

That evening, neighbours came by. I had the crate set up (to ensure I could) and they offered the use of their hex pen as well. The hex pen was the same height as the crate (3′) and had 8 2′ sections with a door in one. Perfect!

I guess that my husband saw my excitement at that point in the idea of being able to go up to the lake – and whether it was something he wanted, or didn’t, he did accept it then.

Still I worried. I don’t want to be where I am not wanted, yet… I really do want my husband to want me there. I really do want my husband to love me. And as I packed, I was not convinced. I suppose I should be one way or another – but my husband and I were… thrown onto different wavelengths when our children were moved. I guess that is the best way to describe it. Sometimes I really believe he wants me around. The rest? I guess I am convinced he wishes we never met. I suppose it is the same for him.

We did end up going camping. We did end up having a good time. And for the most part? He seemed happy to have us there with him.

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Autism: What Change May Come

It has been a cold, wet spring. I am not sure what to make of it as thoughts of ‘typical’ are replaced with an idea that things are changing and perhaps what once was will no longer be. I must prepare myself to accept what changes may come, for I know that flexibility is not natural for me – yet can be survived, perhaps even well, should I accept ahead of time that “all shall be well.”

All winter, for instance, we had our bird feeders hanging from the maple tree in the front yard, filled with seed – but the birds didn’t come. “Oh well,” I thought, “we can take the remaining seed up to the lake in the summer, and feed the squirrels and chipmunks.”

Then, a little over a week ago, the birds started coming. I have refilled the feeder twice since. True, it was meant to help them survive the winter, and there are many other things they could be eating now, but it sure is nice to watch them at a time when I am able to sit outside (even if I remain undercover, bundled in a sweater.)

It is a change, but I am okay.

There is another change that I am considering for this year. It is not so much the change itself that causes me to hesitate, but the ability (or rather inability) to express it well… the need, that is. The idea – and one vocalized as a suggestion from a friend, and confirmed as a… sensible choice from a relative – is that I not go up to “the lake” this year.

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The more I consider this, and the more I observe “my girls” growing calm and content in the safety of our yard, the more I come to believe this to be the most logical course for me to take. There are just too many things about that trip which cause me stress and anxiety:

  • food issues which have always lead to meltdown and humility there
  • eagles, osprey and other wildlife that actively seek to eat my girls
  • where I will sleep (tents are no longer suitable as I fear for safety for my girls)
  • how to stop my girls from barking and chasing neighbours, family, and their dogs
  • cows – yes, cows! Clara will chase them, which also becomes a danger, and they are free range up there
  • how to safely contain my girls when I go swimming, kayaking, or playing games with others up there
  • a more than 2 hour drive each way to get there in a vehicle without air conditioning (again, safety and food issues, and there is the motion sickness on top of that)

As I consider all of these things, and my anxiety grows, I return to the comment from my friend. “Wouldn’t it be better to stay home?”

Is it better to stay home? Pretty much always!

And the truth is, I live in a beautiful tourist town where my pastor frequently reminds us, “people save all year to come to a place like this.” And he is right!

My house is a short walk from the lake, and two beautiful nature trails. I live maybe a five minute drive from a really nice beach. I have a fully fenced yard, with many shade trees and bushes, a lawn swing and a freestanding hammock, lots of wildlife (though easier to keep my girls safe) right here in my own home.

My girls are happy here, and I am able to relax, so… why would I want to leave?

 

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Autism: Not Belonging

For years in my childhood, and early teen years, my family spent summers camping together. Frequently we camped along with extended family – my paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, plus all of our dogs. It was a wonderful time, and something I looked forward to year after year.

Although we started out with tents, but the time I was about twelve, we all had relatively new trailers. We often camped in well known parks. From the time I was born until I was about fifteen, we spent part of every summer at the KOA on Lundy’s Lane in Niagara Falls. It was only an hour’s drive from where I grew up, and at the time, wasn’t nearly as expensive as it is these days.

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They had concrete trailer pads with full hook-ups, full, clean bathrooms, a large playground, even a wagon ride and movie night for the kids on weekends. Then of course, we always spent time at the falls as well – and the stores, museums and such that were a part of that tourist area.

I only had one female cousin on my father’s side during those years. While her family also spent much of their summers camping, her father was a fisherman, and kept a seasonal trailer and boat at a park on Lake Erie. They didn’t often come with us, though we did frequently visit them.

I did, however, have an aunt, who was only a few years older than me. I also had my older brother, and several male cousins to “hang around” with. For the most part, this was fine. I liked them very much, and was thrilled to be allowed to “tag along.”

To be sure, they all liked the video arcades, and I never saw the point. It was a waste of a quarter, as far as I was concerned. But I was a patient child, and would just wait for them to use up their quarters before we went back to the playground, or the creek, or wherever they wanted to go for fun.

For years this worked out. I hardly had any games of my own, but they didn’t seem to mind having me follow them around. And then there was that one time…

I think it may have been a joke, but jokes are not exactly something I understand. I may have been twelve or thirteen, and we were at “the falls” camping with the large group. I had spent quite a bit of time with my older brother, and one of my younger cousins. I am not sure where his older brother was at the time, as typically the four of us did most everything together.

Anyway, they went into the men’s washroom, and I waited for them outside. I guess they had planned it beforehand, but I didn’t know. They “escaped” through the other door, and went running away to hide from me. Perhaps I was supposed to find them. Perhaps they just wanted a few hours without me.

Whatever their reason, I was an exceptionally sensitive child – and the thought that they didn’t want me around was too much for me. Rather than make a game of it, and chase them – or even to wait a while, and try again – I decided in that moment that they didn’t like me.

Though I did follow them around at times after, and I did continue to “hang out” with them at times, I never again trusted that they wanted me there.

And that is the thing about Autism – at least for me. One idea. One thought. One hurt. One misunderstanding… it takes hold, and doesn’t let go. So what may have been a joke (and not an abnormal one for typical pre-teen/teen boys) can set the stage for all future relationships.

I still love camping. I still love my family. I would continue to spend my summers at the KOA in Niagara Falls if it were possible (if I were rich!) I still love campfires, and trailers, and wagon rides… I still very much think of those times in my life with gratefulness.

Yet never, since that day, have I trusted that I was wanted where I was. I am simply along for the ride.

 
 

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