Monday, March 23, 2009

Our "Day Out With Thomas"

We recently spent "a day out with Thomas," something we have done for the last several years, and it caused GFCF Mommy to become, well, a little introspective, but in a good way. So I thought I'd share our experiences with the useful little blue engine over the years, since I know Thomas is the beloved unofficial best friend of many Princes with ASD. Maybe it will help some of you with young children learn what to expect should Thomas visit your city.

Since toddler-hood, one of the Prince's favorite places is The Gold Coast Railroad Museum. It is the kind of place that John Elder Robison, author of Look Me In the Eye, would adore. My favorite passages in his excellent autobiography are when John describes the shared love of trains he has with his son and his father. (As an aside, I personally believe Look Me In the Eye should be added to Temple Grandin's Thinking in Pictures and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-time as required reading for parents of children with ASD and especially Asperger's).

But back to the train museum. Although there is a small, traditional exhibit with photographs, displays and the like, the main attraction are the real trains that visitors are free to explore. You can roam the tracks, climb inside some of the trains that have been restored, and even take short rides on a diesel or two, or a "kiddy-train." In its former life, the museum was a naval air station during WWII, the three tracks and hangers were reincarnated in their current charming form. There is also a room/exhibit with several hand-on Thomas tables, a big screen TV that plays Thomas shows continuously, and several model train collection setups, with one or two usually running.

For years, a treat for us on a rainy afternoon would be to go to the Thomas room. There we would meet others of "our kind," children and adults, diagnosed and not diagnosed. It has always been a very ASD-friendly place, perhaps unintentionally so, but nevertheless, a safe and happy place for our kids.

So, at the height of "Thomasmania" at our house, when the Prince was 3 years old, we were excited when "A Day Out With Thomas" came to our local museum. At that time, we had only been doing the therapy go-round and the diet for about a year. The Prince could hardly speak, was not potty-trained, and had very-heightened sensitivity to noise. But undaunted, convinced our little Thomas aficionado would adore the experience, we bought tickets and anticipated an idyllic family outing with great photos to share with the relatives.

That year, it didn't quite turn out that way.

I am sure the "Day Out With Thomas" differs from venue to venue. At our local museum, there is a fair-like atmosphere that somewhat resembles the seaside amusements at the Island of Sodor. There are bounce houses, food booths (none GFCF, of course), Sir Topham Hat roams around and is available for photo opps. There are organized Thomas-related crafts and games. One coach shows Thomas videos. You can buy any Thomas train, toy, apparel or merchandise of your desire. But the highlight is watching the full-sized little blue engine puff into the station, followed by your ride on Thomas' coaches, and there are more than just Annie and Clarabell.

We ordered our tickets in advance, and arrived, as suggested an hour before our train departure time. Unfortunately, we went straight to the loading area, only to stand in line for an hour. The ambient noise and the waiting were too much for the Prince. By the time Thomas arrived, he was an overstimulated unhappy camper. Next, we boarded the train. Throughout the coaches they are playing the happy songs you hear on the show, loudly. By the time the ride ended, The Prince was in full-blown melt-down mode. So much for our photo opp with Thomas.

The following year, when the Prince was 4. We just skipped it, though we continued to be frequent visitors to the Museum. To our surprise, when the Prince was 5, now potty-trained and very verbal, he requested that we attend "A Day Out With Thomas." We reminded him of our previous experience, but he really wanted to go. By this time, he had 3 years of therapy (OT, ST, some ABA), 2 years of special ed, and the GFCF diet. We also had 3 years of ASD parenting experience and had learned to make accommodations and lower our expectations for events like this.

To our delight, it went fine. We opted not to stand in line as suggested, and arrived at the last minute just to see our blue friend pull into the station. We brought headphones for the ride. We sneaked in our own snacks. We spent more time in the open-field area where the booths were located, hence, less crowd noise. The Prince came home with a few new trains, a James tattoo, and a big smile on his face.

Then there was this year. Thomasmania seems to be on the rise again, but instead of just enjoying carrying around the little trains, one in each hand as he did as a toddler, the Prince takes great pride in using his tracks to create elaborate train runs, throughout our entire house. At age 6, he was looking forward to attending "A Day Out With Thomas" to add to his collection. He rarely watches his Thomas videos anymore, since he is more interested in his track-creations.

So once again, we brought headphones, snacks, and lowered, though hopeful, expectations. We didn't need the headphones. The Prince sat in the coach, chatted with some of the other children, and listened to the Thomas songs. Afterwards, he did say that the noise made him tired, and that he needed a break. We grabbed a picnic table, had a snack, then hit the merchandise area. The Prince even allowed me to take some photos with Thomas, something he could never do in earlier years. It was a family outing like I imagine typical families have. I almost had to pinch myself to make sure it was not a dream.

As I sat in the coach listening to those happy children sing the "Thomas and Friends" song, I almost cried. Perhaps some of the emotion is due to my newly discovered existential awareness which comes from fighting cancer. But I thought back to all the other "days out" we had attended and marveled at how far the Prince, the Professor, and I had come. And I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything.

Life is good on the Island of Sodor.


tina said...

Your story brought tears to my eyes. I am new to ASD. My 2 year old is just starting the diet and therapies and I hope that one day our family will have a joyous day out and we'll be able to recollect at how far we've all come.

Anonymous said...

Please be my new BFF! I have been the warrior mom for my darling prince who is now 6 1/2. I remember the Day Out with Thomas being one that we barely survived 3 years ago and we are headed to Disney World in June (thanks for those posts too!). He is an entirely different boy on GFCF. I was desperately seeking a quick white bread recepe and found your video on it (so tired of spending $10/wk on bread). I spent all day saturday baking rocks and i'm looking forward to trying your recipe. It was that very book in your hands that made the most difference in our battle - love to chat with you more - find me on facebook "jami smith wright". I'll definitely mark your blog as a favorite and check back often - next stop for this train is Amazon to see if your book sells there...THANK YOU for taking the time to share!

GFCF Mommy said...

Hi Tina,

Thank you for stopping by and I wanted to send you some hugs and let you know it sounds like you are doing all the right things. I know that we have been very lucky and blessed. We have worked hard too, but I know each child is so different and the trick is finding the right combination of therapies that works. I pray you will be able to look back on the journey too and I just bet you will.

Dear Anon,
I'd love to be your BFF! I think you will have a blast at Disney World, as long as you call ahead and make all the food arrangements and get the guest pass:)

I am afraid I can't take the credit for the quick bread recipe though. I think you must have followed the link I have on my blog to my friend Kimmy Krocker's video on the white bread recipe. Kimmy is great. Unfortunately, neither of us has a cookbook yet. But the "Special Diets for Special Kids" book that Kimmy got the white bread recipe from is a good place to start. I hear through the grape vine there are some other new GFCF cookbooks coming out soon and as I have a chance to look at them, I'll report back here.

Amazon does have the "Special Diets for Special Kids" book, but it was not written by Kimmy or me, but by Lisa Lewis, who is kind of the pioneer warrior mom for the GFCF Diet. I'll look for you on FB. Believe it of not, there a many of us ASD/GFCF parents on FB.

gfcfcanadianstyle said...

We did DOWT last year, it was a blast! But, I can't imagine if we'd done it at 3 years old. (My son was 5) You captured the ASD experience so well. My dh and I actually joke that having a Thomas obsession should be on the DSM criteria for ASD!

GFCF Mommy Octopus said...

What a beautiful heartfelt post. Your words have described much of what HPK's previous pre-GFCF outings were like and the wondrous progress that he has made and just how THANKFUL and appreciative we are.

I'm off to blow my nose and wipe my tears.

Thank you for sharing.

Erin said...

If anyone should write a book -- it should be you. Whenever I read your blog -- it feels like I should have paid to see it... your thoughts and the way you convey them are priceless.

What an incredible story about the major progress your Little Prince has made over the years. Sooo happy for you all.

SunMoonStar said...

This post gives me so much hope.
I have two girls on the spectrum and dream of going places with them, where I don't have to worry about the meltdowns etc.
We are getting there...