The Boy, 5, saw a photo of a waterfall on the front of a brochure. He pointed to it and said “go splash?” So naturally I had to figure out which waterfall that was.

The Boy is autistic, and while he was diagnosed “nonverbal” at 2, he has a great vocabulary now and uses a lot of meaningful speech. When he asks for something nicely, he usually gets it. (He still communicates sometimes through grunts, screams, etc.)

Thankfully, I discovered the waterfall in question was a short hike away from an easily accessible parking lot. My greatest fear in taking him anywhere is always his safety. He is an eloper and has difficulty transitioning; best case scenario, he holds my hand the whole time and leaves of his own accord with his head held high. Worst case scenario, I have to carry him out while he’s crying and screaming (and I haven’t the upper body strength lol).

We had an amazing adventure and he did so much better than I could’ve ever anticipated. He always surprises me with how much he can do. He got upset when it was time to leave, which was honestly only due to the fact he was getting more bold about climbing the rocks, and it was dangerous. When he stops following verbal cues and instructions, that’s a sign to me he’s “hitting the wall” and it’s time to go. (Injuries for both of us happen beyond the wall lol.)

I know a lot of parents of children with autism feel they can’t even leave the house because of how challenging it will be for their kids. But I want you to know that your child is capable of so much, if only you give them the chance.

There’s a science behind our adventures, though.

First, we never go anywhere without him having adequate sleep and a full belly.

Second, I work with him constantly (but not in an overbearing way) about safety, verbal and visual cues (“slowly”, “careful”, “wait”, etc.) If that foundation isn’t there, it’s definitely going to make keeping them safe in a public place more difficult.

Thirdly, I let him lead in pretty much every situation. I am convinced he may have ODD, so giving him choice and allowing him to be a little more independent helps him stay regulated and cooperative. I let him go where he wanted at the waterfall, but I was always right there with him to help him and keep him safe.

He got frustrated at a couple points because he wanted to go under the waterfall and couldn’t (the rocks were too slippery).

I’m always amazed by how much we really do get to experience together, and I’m so grateful to make memories with him.

Parents, please give your child a shot. With preparation, patience, and adjusting your expectations a little bit, you and your autistic or Sensory processing challenged child can do all sorts of things.

Will people maybe stare at you funny? Sure. That’s their problem. You’re making memories. Enjoy your child. What’s the worse that can happen? A meltdown and a crying car ride home? But what if the worst doesn’t happen?

Please note, there may be some things that just aren’t safe for your child at the age or level of support they’re at right now. For example, I know I can’t take my son on a long hike, or to high elevations right now. He simply lacks the awareness of his surroundings to keep him from falling or getting hurt. But we do go to beaches, swimming pools, movie theaters, stores, indoor and outdoor playgrounds (as long as they are completely fenced/enclosed), and back when he was younger, lots of hiking and walking trail trips! He even went to our relative’s house who has a huge collection of breakable figurines lol. (That’s like catnip for some autistic kids). He was remarkably self-controlled all the way until the end when he got tired and hungry. I’m so proud of him.

Enjoy photos from our wild & wonderful adventures in West Virginia.