Ah, Las Vegas … we are fresh back from a trip to that hot, crowded, sensory-overload-with-an-exponent-by-it mecca. Some might consider it “poking the bear” bringing an autistic tween such as Jewel to such a place, with her desire to control situations and feelings of being bombarded with stimuli, but there is a method to the madness.
I grew up in a big family, so traveling was a rarity as it was so cost-prohibitive. My first plane flight wasn’t until I was 20. My husband loves to plan trips and travel, and I made up for lost time during our years of marriage before Jewel was born. It’s part of who we are.
It’s important to me that Jewel have “roots with wings” … a sense of her family always being there for her, but also knowing the time will come for her to have a fully independent life in which she can soar. I went off to college as naive as anyone could be (ask my former roommates, who I once asked, “How many of these do I take?” while holding One a Day vitamins), and I want to expose Jewel to as much of “real life” as possible before she ventures out on her own.
Vegas isn’t real life in the sense that the Eiffel Tower isn’t right next to a Planet Hollywood across the street from a giant oasis of prancing fluids set to music (I love the Bellagio fountains!), but it is real life in its crowded, messy, tough to navigate, blinking lights, all types of people and languages heard kind of way. And Jewel, who once described autism to me as “people throwing 1,000 bowling balls at me,” needs to experience that as much as she needs time for quiet reflection.
But such ventures need to be carefully planned, and failure must be an option. I like the idea of stretching the rubber band, and pulling back, and then stretching further, building those comfort zones and memory muscle. She remembered the heat from a previous visit, so I front-loaded her by telling her we were staying at the same hotel with an air-conditioned mall attached to it, we would take our longer walks in the evenings and go swimming each night instead of during the day.
Predictability helps a lot with Jewel. She prepares for things by building a “script” in her head, and she would really like to be able to press “play” on her life recorder and have things happen exactly as scripted. But life isn’t like that, of course, and she can act out when events “eat” the tape. We traveled by ferry from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia, a couple of summers back. When we got on the boat for the return trip, Jewel was upset we were not sitting in the same exact seats as the trip there. I hadn’t thought that she would equate it to plane travel, with assigned seating. As a stickler for the “rules,” she thought we were breaking them, and had one of her most major meltdowns … screaming, crying, fists flying; I had to physically restrain her in that confined row of seats so she wouldn’t run off the ferry before it left the dock. It was terrifying, and edifying. The lessons learned the hard way are usually the most important.
In Vegas, we took Ubers, and Jewel listened to one driver brag about his judo-obsessed daughter with whom he talks about “everything, including s-e-x” (he spelled it out as if Jewel wouldn’t be able to understand him!), as well as another from South Africa who still had a wonderfully thick accent after 28 years in the States and who ended up being more than a little racist. And we had $5.99 meals that weren’t worth every penny and she listened to me push to get what was promised at check-in at the hotel and we went up in the Stratosphere and all agreed hell to the no when it came to doing the rides atop it.