Sometimes, I think maybe this blog should be “52 Weeks of Bama” because, well, we like to go, and we don’t always stay close to home. See, I grew up in the country and sometimes, I have to get out in the hills just to re-center myself. This week was one of those weeks.
Last week, a dear friend surprised me with a gift of some cash and said “Do something for the boys.”
I narrowed it down to two things. A trip 2 hours north to Cathedral Caverns or a membership to the Birmingham Zoo. The zoo membership would give us unlimited visits for a year, but I picked a day trip to Cathedral Caverns, instead. I used to go caving back when I was 18 or so, and have been on commercial cave tours, too. I called them ahead of time to find out about how easy the tour is because we occasionally have some mobility issues and some irrational fears. On the phone, the young lady I spoke with said they have golf carts that a person can ride on if they are unable to tolerate the actual walk in the cave, which is paved throughout and has handrails, too.
Here we are, starting out. Mr. Incredible passed on the day trip in favor of a quiet day, napping and watching whatever he wanted on the tv, uninterrupted. So, before we left, I set the crock pot with some supper for him, because when the boys and I go on a jaunt, who knows when we will actually be home? Not us…and you can bank on us getting food out as our way of finishing off the day. It’s just how we roll.
About 10 miles from the house, I saw something on the roadside and turned around to go back and get it. I had to exit the interstate, get back on, etc. I don’t normally stop to pick up roadside treasures, but did it for these. Check it out!
They must have fallen off a work truck. These things are like gold for kids with Autism and were well worth the extra ten mins it took to go back for them. I’ll clean them up and will find them a home.
If you have a few cases of these or a source for them, feel free to give me a holler. I’ll hand them out to kids at an event. You’d be surprised at what a set of these things can do for an Autie kid to be able to handle crowds.
My mom used to always pick up stuff off the road. Her favorite thing? Milk crates and 5 gallon buckets! It’s interesting to me, the things that remind me of her now that she’s gone.
We got back on the road and kept going until we got to Steele, where we exited for bathroom breaks and because there is a Loves there. Why Loves? Because I have a weakness for truck stop tchotchkes! I have never bought any, but do love to look.
While I’m on the subject of bathroom breaks, I want to add something.
A lot of kids with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder really hate public toilets. Those sensors on the back? The damn things go off at unpredictable moments and the toilets are already so loud they hurt sensitive ears and They.Scare.Our.Kids.
OK, they don’t scare Superman anymore (though he still hates the unpredictability of it) but little kids, yes! So, here’s what we learned to do. Cover it up with a piece of TP. Simple.
It will not go off until you remove the TP, which means it can at least take the unpredictability out of the whole thing. It will still be loud, and parents, PLEASE make sure your kids know that when they go by themselves, they need to let the toilet flush by removing the TP. Please don’t make me regret sharing this tip with you or some engineer, somewhere, will be paid to find a way to work around our workaround.
I’m sure I didn’t invent this. I did, however, figure it out on my own when my little one was actually little and he asked me about the sensor. Instead of telling him the truth, I told him that when you stand up, it takes a picture of your butt to make sure you wiped good. Oh boy, I am STILL regretting that one but it doesn’t make it any less hilarious!
We got off at Gadsden and headed north. There were some interesting things along that highway. There’s a drive in theater in Boaz, lots of interesting looking, locally owned restaurants, a car lot (Boaz area again) that sells cars for inexpensive cash prices, and also a place that has vintage cars, including what looked like an old ambulance. It was a good drive, one we had never made before.
Right before we got to the park, there was an overlook area with parking.
The park has a good sized pavilion with lots of picnic tables, enough to accommodate large groups. We set up a picnic with some junk food, but I, at least, ate LC junk food…
According to Superman, picnics are relaxing. I think that means we will go on more of them.
We moseyed down to the shop to see when the next tour was, and we had about an hour. We walked around, looking at rocks and gift shop jewelery and I sent the boys back to the van to get a couple of pennies for the penny press. Any time there is a penny press, we press a penny. I got the one with the bat on it. There was a man who was very interested in the press machine, so I had the oldest show him his when it was finished. He sounded like he might have been French. We saw him when he pulled in to the parking lot, he got out of a car with New York license plate and a Yakima roof rack. He got out and went straight to a sunny place and lay down in it before he did anything else.
You can’t really tell how steep the incline was from this image, but it was steep enough that I knew we wouldn’t be able to manage without a little support. While the boys were getting pennies, I approached the guy in the shop and told him that my son has Autism and with that, some depth perception issues. He immediately volunteered a seat on the golf cart. I didn’t even have to ask.
When they got back from the van, I introduced them and made sure that my son knew there would be no worries.
Meet Alex, our tour guide. This young man is 16. He loves Auburn and wants to be a park ranger. He plays football and baseball and goes to work at the park almost every day. His voice booms across the crowd so nobody misses a thing while they are on their tour. Alex was the tour guide recently for a blogger at AL.com but I didn’t know that before we went. The above write up covers aspects of the tour that I won’t be. I look at almost everything we do from a different perspective, that of a parent with an adult son with a disability.
Now, back to Alex. You know I like to people watch and one of the things I noticed about him was how he interacted with my son. Even while I write this, it makes me tear up. I don’t know if he has any experience with Autie kids, but if he was acting instinctively, then he was spot on. He gave him ample warning when there were steep areas, when he should hold on tight, and at one point even asked him to sit in the front with him so he could see certain areas and also make sure he didn’t knock his head on the wall. What he did NOT do is treat him like he didn’t think he could understand, like he was any different, he didn’t insist that he interact with him, and he didn’t talk to me instead of him. He did, at one point, ask me if there were any seizure issues because he played a strobe light show at the end. I wish there were more Alexes in the world. Lots more.
The only part of the cave that is not wheelchair accessible is a staired portion with 43 steps. It leads up to a hole in the wall where the ceiling is low and well-lit. They have this area set up so that you can see fossils in the ceiling. It’s covered in fossilized fish bones! Very, very cool and interesting enough that Superman climbed those stairs in spite of his fears just so he could check it out.
The cave itself is beautiful and rich with history. There has been a lot of love invested into it over the years in order to make it a place for people from all over to be able to enjoy. It’s worth the drive for any day trip and it’s one we will make again. I hope every park is as easy to navigate with Autism as this one was, and I hope every park has someone there who has the kind of compassion and character that I found at this one.
Go here to check out Cathedral Caverns on the Alabama State parks website.