Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Road Beckons...

Nearly each weekend since Eden's attended the Center for Discovery, we've brought her home to spend time with the family.  And nearly every weekend we've faced a constant dilemma -- what to DO with Eden.  Barely through the door at home, she'll usually race to her room, dragging me by the hand, eager to watch TV -- more specifically, innumerable episodes of Elmo's World.   Eden's been watching Elmo since she was a baby, to the exclusion of just about anything else.  And after 12 years, I can tell you, Elmo's voice gets a little grating.  Still, there's something about that furry little red monster that makes her happy, so we indulge her.  That said, after about an hour (or sometimes less), Eden gets antsy and pulls me toward the DVD player, insistently urging that I change the program.  The problem is, no matter what I change it to, she's not happy, and the insistent urging gets worse.  At this point, there are just a few shows even among Elmo's canon that she'll watch.

This all wouldn't so bad if there were other things we could prevail upon Eden to do.  But, there aren't.  Each weekend we spend together brings the same challenge of keeping her occupied and entertained.  Which brings me to the subject tonight's reflection.  You see, recently we've hit upon an absolutely wonderful activity that we can reliably count on to keep Eden's attention and bring her consistent enjoyment -- a simple car ride.  This simple yet effective activity has had a remarkable impact on our domestic tranquilty!

I recently spoke with a colleague at work who has an autistic son very much like Eden.  His son lives at home with his parents, who like us face the dilemma of keeping their son occupied, particularly when he gets agitated or antsy for whatever reason.  My friend's son will often bring his father his car keys, wallet and cell phone, in a gesture aimed to communicate one thing -- "Dad, it's time for a ride".   And day or night, early or late, his father indulges him, for even the briefest of rides seems to calm and soothe him.  When I heard what effect a simple car ride had on his son, I thought to try the same thing with Eden the very next weekend.

Sure enough, about an hour into watching the same Elmo's World episode, Eden had had enough.  She was becoming anxious, relentlessly pulling me into her room, gesturing for me to change her TV show.  I knew full well there was nothing else I could put on that would mollify her.  And frankly, having my fingers pulled out of their sockets while she tried to grab my attention was getting painful.  I immediately announced Eden and I were going for a ride.  Within a few minutes, her shoes and jacket were on, and we headed out the door.

At school, Eden's teachers regularly try to keep her occupied with physical activities to provide her with a stimulating educational environment.  Just keeping her moving, be it to help retrieve lunch for the class or gathering up recyclables to be sorted, seems to play an important role in her happiness and well-being.  Sure enough, Eden was only too happy to head out the door with me.  With her MP3 player in tow, she climbed into the backseat of our SUV so she and her Dad could hit the open road.

The effect was remarkable.  Where she'd previously been agitated and upset, now Eden was comfortable, happy and full of smiles as she listened to her music and serenely gazed out the window at the trees rushing by.  It doesn't seem to matter where we go -- I'll typically just pick some direction I'm curious to explore in Sullivan County -- as long as we're moving.  Maybe it's the picturesque scenery of the verdant Catskill mountains, or perhaps the feeling of movement and the freedom it conveys, but something about just being in that car makes her happy.

It's been wonderful to have a simple activity we can share that gets us out of the house and away from the TV.  Eden will listen to her music and take in her surroundings, while I'll contemplate the open road.  Somehow, the drives have a centering effect on me, too -- a chance to reflect and simply enjoy doing something for my little girl that brings her such contentment.  Granted, I'll keep our jaunts to about an hour at most, since even the amusement of a car ride has its limits for Eden.  Nevertheless, I'm always grateful to escape Elmo for a while, and get both Eden and myself a bit more centered.