Dad Tried a Crazy Method to Help His Autistic Son Grow…And It Worked!A. Stout
There’s something really special about traveling to a new place and getting off the beaten path. Though it can certainly be nerve-wracking and uncomfortable at times, it can also be an incredible adventure and help you grow as a person. But you may not think something like that would be suitable for someone on the autism spectrum—someone who tends to thrive in routine and predictability. Going on a rugged adventure in a new place is the opposite of routine and predictability!
But that’s exactly what Dr. James Best of Sydney, Australia, did with his teenage autistic son, Sam: the duo went on a six-month backpacking tour across Africa in an experimental attempt to help Sam grow as a person and learn to accept the unexpected.
Before going on the trip, Sam was undoubtedly a smart young man, but he also faced day-to-day obstacles due to his autism.
“Sam could play the piano and he could reprogram computers and pick up maths really quickly but he couldn’t go to the shop by himself or have a normal long conversation with a friend,” said Dr. Best.
When Sam turned 14, Dr. Best and his wife decided to try something that may have sounded pretty crazy: they were going to test a theory, which, according to Dr. Best, was “based on what is known about autism and adolescence but based more on gut instinct than scientific evidence.” The theory? Prolonged exposure to uncertainty would help Sam improve and grow across multiple areas.
Their theory was based on the knowledge that adolescence is a sort of “neurological ‘second spring,'” a time of rapid growth and development in many different ways, similar to early childhood development. They wondered if they could take advantage of this time by exposing Sam to new things.
However, it wasn’t easy. In order to fund the trip, the family had to sell their house. Sam, of course, had to take six months off of school, and Dr. Best, six months off of work. The family was split for that period of time.
Nor was it easy for Sam to handle the drastic changes and uncertainty that came with the trip. Throughout the six month period, Sam was given daily tasks to help him grow—such as speaking for himself, taking public transportation, and stopping by various places like churches and schools. At the beginning of the trip, it was a major struggle for him, and Dr. Best wondered if it was time to give up and head back home.