Outings with Hana

September 28, 2016

I am auntie to a beautiful 11 year old girl with fair skin and sun-kissed hair.  She is tall, lanky and exceedingly agile on her feet.  She is clever and deliberate in her activities.  She keeps everyone around her guessing what her next move will be.  In addition to these wonderful traits, sadly, Hana is not functionally verbal and incapable of monitoring her own safety.  Hana has low-functioning autism.  She’s been a flight risk on several occasions this past year and life with her can be very challenging. 
This summer Hana (along with her parents, of course) came to visit.  We were excited to welcome them into our home and also anxious about how she would do.  It had been three years since their last visit to our house and now Hana was older.  That meant she was faster and more capable of getting herself into potentially dangerous situations.  It also meant that we would be looking for fun places around San Diego County that we could all enjoy together.
Hana loves water.  She also loves to jump and bounce and climb.  We figured there were plenty of activities around our area that we could try out.   Some went well and some didn't.  Keep reading to find out where we went, what went well and what didn’t, and what we learned. 

The Beach
At first, this idea wasn’t even considered a possibility.  Hana’s parents were concerned about the open-space with potentially dangerous surroundings. We wondered if it would be too easy for her to run away or get swept away in the waves.  It ended up being better than anyone expected.  Hana’s love of water and her no-fear attitude toward the waves were in our favor. Dad was willing to be her constant companion in the 65 degree water.  He stayed by her side as she jumped in the waves and smiled her biggest smile.  Every time she attempted to head out into deeper waters, he gently guided her back to the spot where she could touch and the waves were safely breaking just at her waist.  She loved it so much that it was not easy getting her to leave.  It was such a positive experience, we made sure to visit the beach with Hana a few more times during their visit.

What we learned:  This was not a sit and relax trip to the beach.  No lounge chairs and a good book on this one.  It was an “all-hands-on-deck” sort of trek but we loved it and all thought it was worth the effort.

Trampoline Park
Playing on the trampoline in our backyard has always been a favorite activity of Hana’s, so it made sense to give one of our local trampoline parks a try.  It started off terribly.  The wait was too long and if there’s something that Hana hates, it’s waiting!  It didn’t take long before she was screaming.  Of course, it didn’t make the line move any faster, but Hana didn’t care, she just kept on screaming.  But it really didn’t matter because there was so much “kid-noise” inside the gym.  Hana was not to be outdone by the 2 and 3 year olds having meltdowns of their own.  No one seemed to notice or care that this 11 year old was screaming her head off.  We eventually got our wrist bands and went inside.  We were only able to stay for one hour, but we were thankful for that time that Hana participated in the trampolines and foam pits.   She didn’t really love it.  In fact, she spent a good portion of that hour trying to leave.  But she did get a little bouncing in and we liked that it was a secure environment where she could interact with typical kids.

What we learned:  To eliminate wait time at the entrance, sign waivers online before arrival.  Also consider visiting when the park will be the least crowded.

We Rock the Spectrum
San Diego has a special gym designed just for kids on the spectrum.  It’s located in Rancho Bernardo and definitely worth a visit.  Typical siblings and friends are welcome to join in the fun too.  From a zip line, to a giant swing, to areas for climbing, this spot was a jackpot for our group.  Although the gym is relatively small, we spent more time here than any other place we visited.   Hana really seemed to enjoy the time she spent here.  Perhaps it was the smaller space that she felt secure in or maybe she sensed it was a place she could really be herself.  She, her sister and cousins all had a great time together here.

What we learned:  The cost for open play is $12 per child and discounted $10 tickets for siblings.  They also offer multi-purchase passes that save money.  Adults are required to stay and supervise their children.

San Diego Botanical Gardens
We had high-hopes for taking Hana to the San Diego Botanical Gardens and figured it had all the elements for a successful 2-3 hours of fun.  It didn’t work out that way, and the funny thing is, it didn’t work three years earlier either.  We figured the relatively low crowds, trails and walkways and children’s playground were the perfect ingredients for an easy-going visit.  But for some reason, Hana didn’t like it at all.  She wanted to leave the moment we arrived and was pretty unhappy until we did.  She had the same reaction when she was eight.  So I guess, the writing is on the wall (or the bamboo in this case).  No botanical gardens for Hana.

What we learned:  Be flexible.  If you try something and it doesn’t work, just move on.

Although we didn’t visit the following places during Hana’s visit, they offer unique opportunities for children with autism.  Check their websites for details.

The New Children’s Museum
The Ruben H. Fleet Science Center

A Great Resource from Flourishing Families

Every child is unique.  That is especially true of children with autism.  These were our experiences this past summer.  Please share yours too.  Do you have a child, niece, nephew or friend with autism?  Where are your favorite places to visit around San Diego County?  We’d love to hear your ideas so we can try new things the next time Hana comes to visit.

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Aaron Hilton says... (Reply)
"I applaud you for going out of your way to try and find thing that your niece would enjoy. Your trials and triumphs ring true with our family. Our Jonas can be unpredictable even when we think we are we are doing what we think he wants to do. We have found that sometimes he will surprise us and love unexpected things. Tricks we have learned: PREPARE him for what is to come, especially if there may be a wait. BE FLEXABLE, if it isn't working move on and don't take it personal if it doesn't work. FEED him (and the rest of the kids) "hangry" makes for a sure failure.
Thanks for sharing, I love seeing what you are doing.

*** Thank you for sharing Aaron. You are so right! Be flexible and prepare them ahead of time for what’s to come. That seems to work well for Hana too. When we get to spend time with our family like this it definitely gives us a better idea of what it’s like to live day in and day out with these challenges. Our relatives who live in Serbia, not only have a daughter with autism, but they also run camps for families with special needs through Joni Erikson Tada’s organization. Disability affects many people, but it helps to know you are not alone.
-Dianne" (9/29/16)