Peak Experiences – Five Lessons with Autism, and Life

Peak Experiences

Descending Mt Adams

I’m so proud of my guys summiting Mt. Adams, the 2nd tallest peak in NH and the hardest elevation gain we’ve done (4500′ feet.)  We hiked on Saturday, cancelling the usual speech and chores routine since the weather was peak. So too were many moments that day.  I could gaze at the above photo for hours.

Yesterday frankly I was more frustrated with myself over my slow speed on the tough final half-mile. Only now, really, do its lessons speak to me and to all of us parents of special needs kids.

  • Agility – the boys charged up the mountain like it was a walk in the park.  Even with autism – or maybe because of it.  Even W.  What’s more, they charged right on down, something that used to be so painfully difficult for W.  Even during the tricky parts.  Despite this being peak #46 of the hallowed #48 I exert extra care over them due to their autism.   Lesson: sometimes even the profoundly autistic can achieve. Even beyond their mother.
  • Fear – it clutched my throat as I looked up at 0.9 miles of rock-to-rock typical Northern Presis climb.   Probably because I sprained my ankle 3 years ago on a similar climb, but maybe because that tends to be my outlook on life: Fear first, ultra-planning and commitment, as a means to accomplishment.  I went so painfully slow that half – no, most- of the other hikers passed us by.  It made me feel old, and a little silly, but it was where I was at.  Lesson: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” (Thank you Eleanor Roosevelt.)
  • Patience – J.  had it in spades as he stopped on command to slow his pace for his parents.   W. had it as he turned to watch and wait for me, still behind him.   Hubby had it as I kept apologizing for my slowness even though it wasn’t that bad really.  And I had it as I made it through, focused, stopped worrying about the autism and just focused on the climb – and on one step at a time.  Lesson: take one step at a time.
  • A Symbol to guide us – not to spoil the future post but an unusual icon in the Madison Springs Hut kitchen spoke to me, and became my guide on the way home.  Lesson: Just like Meyer-Johnson picto cards, symbols can have power.
  • Love – my favorite moment of the day was when W. waited for me to catch up, then as I neared, he bent down from his 6-inches taller than me height, made greater by a rock, and kissed me lovingly.  I couldn’t tell if it was concern, joy at the above-treeline wonder, a kiss as a way to request something, or merely a moment where he loved his mom.  I savor it regardless. Lesson: For all those who say the profoundly autistic cannot love because they lack words – hello, daughter’s 2nd grade teacher – here’s your proof.

The work day beckons, with behaviorist ABC data collection forms, state social worker paperwork, and the launch of the boys to school.   While I cannot WAIT to get back to our mountains, it’s almost as much of a gift to richly savor the above lessons, and how I might apply them to daily living.   Because – whether it’s Mt. Adams or zero-disrobes or no self-stimulatory slapping – it is good to have an end to journey toward, but the journey is all that matters in the end.

Bon journée, as they say in France – and bonne journye today and beyond.