Welcomed, Autism and All.
June of 2006
Joan Gilb of Tucson, Arizona, writes:
I’m sure everyone with a child of the spectrum knows how challenging vacations can be. My husband and I have opted for vacations with our son separately, as this seems to work best given his needs, plus it gives one of us some well needed respite.
This spring after a full year of home schooling, I decided to celebrate our success with a vacation I thought both my son and I could enjoy. We loaded up our mini-van and left Arizona bound for Montana. I chose Montana as our destination because I needed a big “carrot” to motivate and make this exciting for my son. For us, Montana is “big carrot” country as dinosaurs happen to be my son’s obsession, and Montana offers many museums and archeological sites. I also knew that I could find many dino museums along the way to keep each day exciting as well.
Now, what to do once we got to Montana besides dino museums? I chose a Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations. Montana Bunkhouses are working ranches that only take one family at a time. I thought this would help ensure the environment was not only safe but manageable for our special needs. It was my hope that a working ranch vacation might help expand my son’s interests. If all failed I knew we could at least spend our time on the ranch digging with the hope of finding a fossil!
The ranch family welcomed us, autism and all, and we chose a ranch that seemed to offer the widest range of activities in hopes that one may spark the interest of my son. But ranchers and autism? Could this possibly work? Would they expect my son to “cowboy up” when he screams over the sight of an ant? Would they have even a clue how to elicit conversation from him? Would I be able to find a moment of peace or would this be the vacation from you know where?
You’ve all been there. You know the fear I felt--the reluctance to let go and accept whatever the outcome. Accept the unpredictable nature of a vacation with autism. Accept the possibility of not being accepted.
What I failed to realize when choosing this vacation was that ranchers are skilled in reading and reacting to animal behavior. From their cattle to their sheep to their working dogs these folks live animal behavior. They’re not just about herding and roping and branding. They are about observing and understanding what an animal will do next, which way it will turn, whether it will run or stand still. They have honed these skills for their own survival. And how beautifully these skills can apply to a child with autism. Our host rancher has what we all know in the autism world as the “it factor”. He got it. He seemed to intuitively understand how to elicit the response or reaction he sought.
Needless to say, we had the best vacation ever! I was able to relax and revel in the joy of watching my son. Our ranch host , who we called Rancher Rick, (Rick Jarrett of Crazy Mountain Cattle Company) intuitively knew how to control the tempo and never missed a beat! My son rode on a horse and an ATV, helped irrigate fields, helped dig trenches with the tractor to name just a few activities. It is such a rare and wonderful feeling for me when someone takes a sincere and active interest in my child. Rancher Rick and my son truly enjoyed one another.
The ranch experience was a cathartic one for me. It afforded me the opportunity to sit back and reflect on the remarkable progress my son has made. I think it was when we were all herding sheep that it came to me. This scene and my participation was the physical manifestation, a snapshot so to speak, of my life since having a child. I am a shepherdess, guiding my little lamb to greener pastures. In doing so I’ve found myself in greener pastures as well.