Oh my god! What a whirlwind the last two or three weeks have been. When last we checked in with our intrepid family on the Spectrum, we were starting our vacation. Mike had finished summer camp with the Oyster Bay Gap Program a week or so earlier, and his brothers were weeks into their summer of relaxation. Mike, by the way, had a fantastic camp this summer; no incidents at all, and had taken to his counselors and peers really well. We were scheduled to drive down to Florida, spend a little time with my sister and neice, and spend the bulk of the week in Orlando, taking in Seaworld, Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure. The hotel was booked, and theme park tickets were secured (with a little discount to boot).
Well, the impending track of Hurricane Isaac quickly shredded these plans, as the forecast called for a path to hit Orlando, coinciding with our reservations. So with a lot of hand-wringing and weighing of the pros and cons, we cancelled our plans. We had made similar plans years ago and subsequently drove into the path of a hurricane, and I was more than a bit leery to doing it again; there is something to be said for staring into the literal eye of Mother Nature when she’s billowing.
Needless to say, breaking the news to Mike felt like I was kicking a bag full of puppies. The hurt and disappointment in his eyes was so great. Mike is not a cryer, so when the tears started flowing and he kept trying to keep his composure, it just tugged at us deeply. I never want to disappoint my children, but this really shook all of us. It was Mike’s idea to go to Florida to ‘stay at Tita Gina and Cousin Nina’s house’ after they had come to visit us earlier in the summer. Of course I know Mike’s real motivation was to see the Jurassic Park attraction at Islands of Adventure. The last time we went Mike was about 8 or 9 years old; we had such a great time, and the picture of all of us including 2 aunts and 2 cousins riding down the Jurassic Park River Adventure ride is one of his prized souvenirs, and the source of good memories.
Mike wanted to make more memories and we had just crushed that chance. We offered alternatives like going to the American Museum of Natural History, Atlantis Marine World, Field Station Dinosaur and the New York Aquarium, among others, with a promise to go to Orlando in November when the weather was nicer. That lightened his mood a little.
Very few things are universal for children, both on the Spectrum and off. One of those is the feeling of being of summer vacation; to be away somewhere different than your own home, to have fun. School is tough for children with Autism. Mike knows when summer’s over, he’ll be starting at a new school; even though he’s looking forward to it, the start of school signals the end of summer. I can’t really blame him for feeling sad and blue, and doing all he could to talk us into changing our mind; to delay the end of summer.
So we did. We decided after cancelling our planned vacation, we would wing it and see if the weather would cooperate. We didn’t want to be stuck in the house either; it was our vacation as well.
The day before we were to leave, car problems arose; looked to be a hose or coolant leak. After limping in to the repair shop before the care overheated, I was told the problem required gettting a part from the car manufacturer (Mercury). That part was not available. In all of New York state. So we waited with fingers crossed. The next day, we decided to stuff all 5 of us into what my wife calls ‘the Tin Can’, our PT Cruiser, which served in a pinch, but I wouldn’t recommend it very often. Off we went to Riverhead in our proverbial clown car.
Despite seeing his favorite sharks at Atlantis Marine World, Mike couldn’t let the idea of going to Florida go; it’s very difficult for a child, on the Spectrum or not, to imagine dangerous weather conditions in a place a thousand miles away and understand that avoiding those conditions (and vacation) is the best thing to do.
I got the call that the SUV was done the next morning. After picking it up, and quickly making arrangements for the neighbor to watch the fish, we set a new land speed record for packing, which included the dog, who was supposed to go as well. Eighteen hours and two 5 Hour Energy shots later, we arrived in Florida. The torrential downpour through most of the Carolinas reminded me this was still an iffy proposition. Throughout the drive, Mike kept asking if we were there yet, and didn’t fall asleep until 2am; I guess to make sure we weren’t changing our plans again. The last time we drove to Florida, we had a social storybook made up to help him with his anxiety about leaving home. This time it was the opposite (that’s some kind of progress). The first few days in Florida were predictably rainy, so we just hung out a bit before Mike planned our itinerary, which looked a lot like our previously-planned vacation.
We spent the first day at Seaworld. We braved the long lines and saw the Turtle Trek show, The shark encounter where you walk through a plexiglass tunnel while sharks and fish swim about and saw the Killer Whale show at Shamu Stadium. I went on a flume ride with Nick and got thoroughly and wonderfully soaked while my wife took Mike and Tom to the Seal and Sea Otter show. Later that night we ate at the T-Rex Cafe in Downtown Disney.
The next two days were spent at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios respectively. We of course rode the Jurassic Park River Adventure ride again. But this time around, Mike was open to riding other rides as well. He was more tolerant of waiting on long lines, and generally enjoyed a lot of the attractions. He loved the Shrek 4D experience as well. He wasn’t particularly thrilled that Universal Studios did not have its Jaws exhibit, and promptly wanted to leave but was able to work through it. I was able to coax him into coming with Nick and me on the Men In Black Alien Invasion ride, although he was a little anxious at the beginning when it was dark. It turned out he loved the ride and wanted to go again! Nothing like blasting animatronic aliens in a spinning arcade. We skipped the repeat and went over to the Simpsons’ Krustyland USA simulator ride. I was a little apprehensive at how he would react to being strapped into a simulated rollercoaster/speedboat ride with a lot of crashes and explosions. To my astonishment, he took it all in stride and loved every simulated violent minute of it.
I don’t know if he would have done as well on the Harry Potter simulator ride though; Nick, Tom and I liked it. I think his comfort level was definitely helped by his knowledge of the characters in the rides. He got to dance and take pictures with Spongebob and Patrick as well.
He did get to see fake shark at the San Francisco section of Universal Studios, and we all ate a late lunch at Mel’s Diner. Nothing like a chocolate shake on a hot summer day! We saved the Despicable Me simulator ride for last. It was really a good one; at the end of the ride where you typically exit into the theme store, there was an area where they let you dance (you have to know the movie to understand) to a disco song. Mike, the eternal rocker, was grooving along to “Boogie Fever” and we loved every second of it!
Overall, after a lot of stops and starts, our vacation turned out to be just what we all needed. A chance to spend time as a family without doctors appointments, after-school teachers, music lessons, sports, etc. A chance to make some really good memories. A chance to say good-bye to summer.
Aaaaaand….we’re back into another September. Sigh.
- Family, Food, Dinosaurs and Swimming (beyondautismawareness.wordpress.com)