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As Tristan's mother my primary job is to make sure he socializes with people outside of his family. When he was younger I spent most of my time translating the world for him, but I have since realized the importance teaching him how to translate for himself. He can't be completely dependent on us. We won't live forever. He needed to be comfortable with other people and other places. Comfortable with New Things.

One of the pitfalls of Autism is that I would avoid taking him anywhere because it would be overwhelming for him and a meltdown would ensue. Anxiety and sensory overload is a driving factor in his life. I would take him to the grocery store only to have him start to stim and have a complete meltdown. I soon realized that we had become hermits, and that while this made some things easier, in the long run it was not in anyone's best interest.



In order for Tristan to learn social skills he needed to be pushed out of his comfort zone a little bit. This is a tricky dance. Too much pushing would result in a meltdown, but small amounts of persistent encouragement has helped him come out of his shell. We learned we had to play it by ear. We have found places that are a little more friendly to children on the spectrum -- places he has come to enjoy.

Tristan's Advice

So I asked him which places he would give a thumbs-up to for other Aspies, and he had some thoughts. First, he thought such a decision would primarily depend on what the individual "has Asperger's for." If the person has Asperger's for trains, they should go to a train museum, if they have Asperger's for bridges they should find bridges to visit, and so forth. He concluded that the library was really the best place for anyone on the spectrum, because they have information about everything. Even better, if they don't have it there you can request it (This has really helped him learn self-advocacy and patience. The first non-family member he voluntarily asked assistance of was a librarian at the public library).
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Start with a Story

Before going out to experience a New Thing, it is always best to go through a social story. Social Stories help an individual with ASD understand a new or complex social situation. Used effectively, they can significantly decrease a child's anxiety level concerning new and unpredictable situations. As I am sure you are all aware, individuals with ASD rely on scripts. When they start to escalate they fall back on the script they know -- in our case, movie talk. Social Stories give them the script you want them to have. If your child has a lot of anxiety about an upcoming even it is best to start going through the story several days in advance so they have time to internalize it. If you have never written a social story and would like a free resource, check out this page.

Places to Go

The Public Library

The non-fiction section of the public library is Tristan's favorite place in the world. You might think that taking a child with volume-control issues to the library would be a nightmare, but we have found the library here in Bemidji to be very understanding. The primary draw for the library is the amount of information. Both of my kids love the fact that in one place there are many videos and books about trains, sailing vessels, ancient Egypt, the Titanic, and Legos. Everything has a place, is categorized, and easy to find. There are lots of geometric and figurative lines. In addition, the library is quiet, and social interactions are formal, repetitive, and easily scripted.


Hotel Pools

We love to swim. Being in water has always had a calming effect on Tristan. It is not necessarily the case with all kids with ASD, but the feeling of water on his skin has always been desirable sensory input. His social interactions while swimming are easier for him and usually much more appropriate. This is wonderful in the summer, but winter in northern Minnesota doesn't allow for a lot of lake swimming. We tried swimming at the open pool nights at the high school and college, but the environment at both places was not conducive to calmness. Too many people, too much echoing noise, and too many florescent lights. We have found that the hotels in the area allow non-guest to swim for a nominal fee. The environment is much better -- dimmer lights, less people, less echo, less noise.

Lake Bemidji State Park

The state park here in Bemidji is one of the best in the state. It is the most ASD-friendly beach most of the time. I say most of the time because the one drawback of this beach (besides having no lifeguard) is it's tendency to harbor the parasite that causes Swimmer's Itch during the later half of the summer. When it is Swimmer's Itch free it is awesome. We can spend most of the day there. There beach area is very large, and so even when busy it is not crowded. There is a lot of sand to build with and roll around in. The water stays shallow for quite a ways, the swimming area is clearly marked, and separated by a line of trees from the picnic area, which separates the beach from the parking area. A kid that's a runner would have to get pretty far before being in danger of car traffic.

In addition to the beach, the park has a playground area, bathrooms with no automatic flushers, miles of walking and biking trails in the summer, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing trails in the winter, and maps of everything. These sports can be fun for kids with ASD -- it's quiet, everyone has their own space, and we travel in lines. A great activity they have started there is Geocaching. You can check out a GPS unit from the Interpretive Center and use the clues to find the cache. It is a lot of fun.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/94273578@N02/8579290987/" title="bike ride in the park by beasles, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8091/8579290987_1b414146d5.jpg" width="500" height="375" alt="bike ride in the park"></a>

Headwaters Science Center
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/94273578@N02/8579445409/" title="science center lego table by beasles, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8518/8579445409_37f383a355.jpg" width="500" height="333" alt="science center lego table"></a>

No list such as this would be complete without mentioning the Science Center. This is a fascinating place with all sorts of interesting things to explore including a Thomas the Tank Engine table, sandbox with dinosaurs, and a table full of Legos or Kinnex. You do want to check with the staff there before visiting. If they are very busy, or (even worse) a field trip is there that day, don't go. It will be way to much stimulation. It won't end well.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/94273578@N02/8579348905/" title="t-rex outside the science center by beasles, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8098/8579348905_6fd36c1c4f.jpg" width="500" height="332" alt="t-rex outside the science center"></a>

Bemidji Bowl
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/94273578@N02/8580398248/" title="bowling by beasles, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8529/8580398248_b1d8211669.jpg" width="500" height="333" alt="bowling"></a>
The Bemidji Bowl has two bowling areas: regular bowling and the glow-bowl boutique. The glow-bowl can be fun depending on your child's sensory issues. There is music playing and lights that flash and move. The benefit of that room is that it is smaller and more contained (and not arcade-adjacent). If you are there at a low-traffic time, they will turn down the music upon request. It never hurts to ask. Both areas have computerized scoring, which is fun, and you can program the lanes to have bumpers up when your child is bowling. We have found the bumpers to significantly reduce frustration and help the kids feel successful.


Restaurants

Going out to eat is an issue, and not something we do very often. You really need to do your reconnaissance ahead of time. We avoid any place where the waiters might loudly start to sing "Happy Birthday" to someone with no advance notice. Also, any place we go must have chicken nuggets or strips and french fries and allow kids a certain amount of freedom to move without bothering other people. Our favorite places in Bemidji happen to be pubs. Yes, my kids have favorite bars. The Keg 'N Cork and Brigid's both offer the right kind of food, and have something for the kids to do while they are waiting. Keg 'n Cork has free popcorn and a pool table (lines, lines, and more lines). Brigid's has Foosball and some kind of toppling pin game that I admit I don't understand and am terrible at. They also have some board games there you can play at your table. Neither establishment seems to mind kids that are a little noisy. My theory is any place that deals every night with drunk college kids won't mind a couple of kids with quirky social behaviors eating lunch. My advice, though, is to check with them before going in the evening to make sure it is not trivia night, or that there is not a loud band playing.



For more information about Autism:

I don't want to go anywhere. I like my rails, thank you.

But it's fun to go new places, Thomas

Notes for rest:
I don't want to go anywhere. I like my rails, thank you.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/201102/autism-and-fear
reasons to leave the house
prepare with social stories
include a social story??
http://www.child-autism-parent-cafe.com/how-to-write-a-social-story.html
Take pictures of the place
List of places in the Bemidji area:
Tristan's comments
Hotel pool
Science Center -- times/dates
state park
blackduck theater
library
restaurants
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