My son, Ricochet, loves the beach. When he’s at the beach he can run wild and free, explore and excavate, and match the temperament of the ocean.

When he was younger, he was so excitable and hyper that vacation was fun for him and he never wanted to go back home. Now that he is nearly a teen, and his ADHD activity level is managed, he is acutely aware that he’s not at home, with his stuff, where he knows what to expect. So aware, he cried to go home on several occasions over week away. Several. At one moment, he’s standing in the surf and commanding the waves with great pleasure, like the sorcerer in Fantasia. The next, he is melting down on the path through the marsh, crying that the spiders and possibility of alligators are much too scary, and he just can’t take it anymore.

Here’s my journal of our week at the beach, our Great American Road Trip, autism-spectrum style. How much do you recognize in your own child/family?


Day 1: Yay! We’re at the beach!

11889490_10206191498400634_1688348603400846463_nWe hit the beach with a bang after arriving Saturday evening, just in time for cool breezes and pretty vistas. Ricochet began his love affair with the ocean by trying out his new skim board. He didn’t have good luck, but it was too early to get mad at his long-lost friend just yet, so he handled his frustration like a trooper. The beach was a success, although the great bed debacle of 2015 was stuff Aspie legends are made of.

This year, we are sharing a house at the beach with my parents and my sister’s family. So, they had ring-side seats for the show (the first of several).

In true autism/ADHD fashion, not having what he’s used to was already getting the best of Ricochet. There were bunks and a twin and trundle in one room for the three kids. Ricochet claimed the top bunk, then changed his mind when it was time for bed, fearing he’d fall. So he and his cousin switched beds, and he took the bottom bunk. All belongings were moved, his cousin settled in, Ricochet climbed underneath but was too tall to sit up fully. So, now he’s afraid he’ll bump his head if he sleeps on the bottom bunk.

At this point, I have to get his sister involved and ask if she’s willing to move from the single twin to one of the bunks. Especially since their cousin also decided she didn’t like the top bunk either once up there. Then my Warrior Girl says, “I wanted the top bunk all along but he claimed it first.”

You’d think that was the end of the bed debacle, right? Nope, not even close. Ricochet decided the twin is higher off the ground than his bed at home and that’s scary. He asks us to slide out the trundle, which has no sheets, so he can try that. He likes it, but now the wooden edge of the trundle pulled out is up against the bottom bunk, and his cousin is nervous she will bonk herself on it during the night and get hurt, because she didn’t have room to get out of bed.

So, now his sister is happy, Ricochet thinks he’ll be ok on the trundle, but it doesn’t work for his cousin. I ask Ricochet if we can slide the trundle out half-way as a soft place to land if he happens to roll off (he sleeps on a queen at home). Bingo! All three prizes lit up, although Ricochet was more defeated than lit up, but we had an agreement, two moms, one grandma, and 30 minutes later.

But there were casualties. As I went out to find my Warrior Girl to get her in on the game of musical beds, I passed husband who said it was all ridiculous. Said we’ve known what beds were here for months and I should have had it all worked out months ago. Ok, like our son is going to make a decision without seeing and experiencing, then stick to it when he does. I told him, in front of my entire family, he could just go right back home. I just don’t have tolerance for lack of compassion. I don’t have a magic wand, nor fairy dust – this is the reality of life raising Ricochet. This is life with a kid with ADHD and autism/Asperger’s. This is the brain he was born with and we are gonna love every bit of him.

[Tweet “In true #autism #ADHD fashion, not having what he’s used to was getting the best of Ricochet.”]

What is so upsetting is that husband was jovial all day, trying so hard to be positive and happy and fun on the road trip over, and it was so awesome. Then, he goes and blows it all up at the ninth hour.

I hate that my parents have to see that crap. Life with an Aspie, and with a husband who has no frustration tolerance himself either, is messy.

We survived to see another day.


Day 2: The Day of the Big Burn

We got down to the beach late morning on Sunday. Ricochet danced with the tide and ran up and down the beach with great excitement. It was pretty much beach status quo for him, although many of the rest of us got good and burned and decided to only hit the beach mornings and evening the rest of the week. That gave Ricochet some time by himself in the house with his iPad, which seemed to be a big comfort.

We went back out to the shore that evening to discover crashing waves depositing mounds of shells to dig through. Ricochet found himself some “fossils” and deemed himself an archeologist. He was a proud little dude.

When bed time came again, we were back to musical beds. His cousin had bonked her head several times in the bottom bunk and wanted to sleep on the trundle next to him. That shift was well received and we put to bed another day of vacation.


Day 3: The First Crack

By Monday, Ricochet was more interested in sitting inside on his iPad than being on the beach for hours a day, trading the treat that lost its newness luster for the comfort of familiarity. I couldn’t blame him — I was happy to spend a couple leisurely hours on the beach a couple times each day and get some rest most of the remaining hours. A vacation isn’t relaxing when you have kids. I needed some sun and sand, but also some down time, too.

By bed time, we had yet another kid bed crisis to solve. Now Ricochet wanted to sleep alone, away from others. All I could offer him was a cushy sofa in the enclosed sleeping porch. If it was “personal,” as he says, he was up for anything, although he still struggled to fall asleep.


Day 4: Daddy Buys a Boogie Board

11863490_10206182403053256_1173762516746915073_nFortunately, the surf was very shallow for a ways out, so I felt ok about the kids boogie boarding despite the many shark attacks at the North and South Carolina coasts this summer (that’s why we brought skim boards). Daddy ran up to the surf shop and bought a boogie board. Ricochet was elated. He loves to ride the tide in many times, on repeat. And Daddy does too, which is nice for both of them. This seemed to spark a little renewed interest in being at the beach for Ricochet. Phew!


Day 5: Coddling is Required

By Wednesday, our fifth day away from home, Ricochet needed a lot of coaxing, coddling, and hand-holding. We had never gone on vacation for a full week and he could feel that this was his limit for being away from home. He began to cry that he wanted to go home frequently. Frequently and for long periods, and just about always in public.

We went out for lunch, and he laid his head on the table and cried that he wanted to go home, refusing to eat his food. At one point, he perched on the bench like a bird and rocked himself. I talked to him about how many days until we would be home, but it didn’t help. “I want to go home now. It has to be now. We need to go now,” he whined. It was miserable and frustrating for everyone. I know he was homesick. Frankly, I was too. As much as I love visiting the ocean, I’m a home body and always prefer to be home too.

Everything began to be a “now” situation.

“I’m done boogie boarding, I want to go,” he said.

“As soon as everyone is ready to walk back, Buddy,” I’d answer gently.

“I’m ready now, he’d say.”

Obviously, we are still working on seeing other’s perspectives and weighing them in decisions.


Day 6: Full on Meltdown

I guess I should be grateful that we made it five whole days away from home before we had a full-blown meltdown. The entire eight days would have been great, but I’m working on being grateful for what I can get.

Thursday morning we drove over to Botany Bay Beach — the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. It’s a nature preserve and is nearly untouched. There are great driftwood trees to climb, surf to splash in, and shells bigger than anything you see on the public beaches. It really fed my soul.

However, the 45 minute drive at six miles per hour through the historic groves and marshes on the way in, coupled by the giant spiders hanging from their human-sized webs in every tree out his window, sent Ricochet over the edge before we got to park for the half-mile walk to the beach. And he was riding with my sister’s family in front of us, so I had no idea he was freaking out and had no access to try to temper it before it escalated.

When we jumped out and met up in the parking lot, he was begging to just go home. I didn’t bring my car though, his Daddy was back at the house super sore from too much ocean fun, and I really, really wanted to see this awesome spectacle of nature people were telling us about. I coaxed him along the walking path through the marsh as best I could. At times, we had to walk through a very short wooded area and he spotted every spider like a spider-spotting-superhero, each with building fear and dread. By the time we reached the beach, he was hanging on my arm, begging to be home.

DSC_0408After a few minutes of walking in the surf along the beach, he began to soften a bit. He was still solemn and sporting a sagging bottom lip, but he was keeping the misery to himself for a few minutes. I walked along, taking photos, and appreciating the beauty of nature.

Once we reached the trailhead to return to the car though, all bets were off. The terror of spiders and bugs was multiplying exponentially every second. I couldn’t even get him to enter the trailhead without a 15-minute negotiation. He even wrote me a note in the sand, “I just want to go home.”

He knew we had to walk the trail to get to the car to get to the vacation house to eventually go home, but he was in a full-on panic. He was hanging from my arm and crying out, “I just want to go home.” Yeah, all the people walking past us looked at me like, “How can your kid be almost as tall as you and crying like that?” And I focused on my child, and kept walking. They don’t know our story. Our struggle. They don’t need to. I just need to get my child back to comfort.

Half way down the trail, Ricochet still hanging from my arm and crying, me just trudging forward stoically, a bee began flying around our ankles in circles, even through we kept walking. Every direction Ricochet darted to escape the bee’s focus, the bee matched. As he jerked and darted on this small path, with no relief, he began screaming out at the top of his lungs in pure panic. “Help me! Help me!” I was trying, but he was falling off the metaphorical cliff. I grabbed hold of his shoulders and asked him to take a deep breath. He sputtered and snorted as snot ran down his face and tears drenched his cheeks. I wanted to get him out of there as bad as he wanted to be out of there. I wanted this sweet boy to stop suffering.

We focused on deep breaths, walking straight ahead swiftly, and made it to the parking lot to the other side of the meltdown. I suspect some of our family who hasn’t seen such intense behavior from Ricochet before probably felt as though he were overreacting, or playing me, but I know that’s not the case, and that’s enough for me. It has to be.

Needless to say, we took it easy the rest of the day. As I tucked him in, he looked me in the eye and whispered, “The day after tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah, Buddy. We go home the day after tomorrow.”


Day 7: Momma Misses Out

By Friday, Ricochet needed to be allowed to do as he felt comfortable — making decisions for him was not going to go well for anyone. Everyone had planned on kayaking the inlets on Friday, but Ricochet was adamant he was not comfortable with that. So Momma and Grandma stayed behind to hang out with him.

About an hour after the others left for the kayaking excursion, I get a call from Daddy.

11027983_10205679100910318_1576420689195203945_o“We’re paddling with dolphins!” Daddy yelled in the phone. “I can almost touch them!”

“You had to call me and tell me that in the middle of the water while rowing?” I asked callously, obviously quite jealous.

“It’s just so cool,” he said, his excitement palpable.

Yeah, I bet! I thought. Once again, Momma misses out. 

The day with Ricochet was calm, but I missed an astonishing opportunity, and I couldn’t help but resent autism and anxiety. The cost of autism is very real for mommas too.

The fun {yeah, sarcasm} wasn’t over yet though. People on the island kept telling us to go to Bay Point for the sunset and we would likely see dolphins. We grabbed our cameras and headed over to that side of the island.

Once we finally found parking and began to walk toward the shore, a man hurried toward us carrying a teen girl. She was crying out in pain, her voice quivering in shock. A towel hung over her foot but we could all see that her foot was bleeding profusely. As a momma, my heart was breaking for her.

Ricochet ran over and threw his arms around my waist and buried his face in my shoulder. When we got to the boardwalk, I told the kids to keep their shoes on since the girl had cut her foot out there. Really. Stupid. Mistake.

Ricochet lost it. He started screaming that he wanted to go. That is wasn’t safe to be there. I, once again, tried to rationalize with him.

“We’re keeping our shoes on and we will just stand right here on the little sand dune. Let’s watch for the dolphins, Buddy.”

IMG_1379He stood there with me, but sullen. He had an angry scowl on his face, and then began stemming, pacing back and forth in the available three-foot radius. “I just don’t feel safe here, Momma.”

These are the times I struggle with the decision to appease the ADHD or autism and end the activity, versus not letting ADHD and autism rule our lives. This time, I decided not to let autism dictate our lives. I stayed, keeping one eye on the sunset and swimming dolphins, and one eye on Ricochet. He eventually became completely overwhelmed by his worry and fear of harm, and started to walk to the car by himself, momma close on his heels. We were almost done there anyway.

The next morning, we packed the car for the five-hour drive home. The family took a cumulative sigh of relief to get back to the comfort of home.

How do vacations go for your kids with ADHD, autism, or Asperger’s? Have you had similar experiences?