Monday, July 19, 2010

At the zoo...

School goes back tomorrow, which never thrills me. In response, Billy and I spent a happy day at the zoo today.

Since our Wizzy World epiphany, I'm less worried about crowds and noise on our adventures. And just to back me up, the city gave us a bleak, cold, deeply unattractive day - the sort of day when sensible people stay home with hot chocolate and dvds. Us, being deeply unsensible (a-sensible? anti-sensible?) folk... hit the wet roads. We didn't even set the sat-nav. That's how we roll.

Actually, if I had set the sat-nav to get to Taronga Zoo, a place Billy and I have been at least 200 times in the last three years, I would have myself committed. I'm getting loopy and forgetful in my old age, but hopefully, not that forgetful.

Before I get to the point (and I promise there is one), let me explain why the zoo is such a popular destination for us.

It's all about special interests. For those of you on the beginning of an ASD-centric journey - listen up, for this could be a model for how part of your future will be built. More experienced players can just sit back and smirk. I am confident I am not going to reveal anything too unique.

It's all Pixar's fault.

First, there was Finding Nemo. In the deep dark hours (for us the year and a half between 18 months and 3 years), there was a LOT of Finding Nemo. We avoided the sharks (too scary), we skipped the bit where the submarine exploded (too many sharks, and also very loud) and we loved the school scenes and Dory (who popped in and out of shot so much, she pleased our little visual stimmer no end. On that note, do not get me started on the turtles whooshing through the East Australian Current).

In a cute side story to the side story, The Silent Partner (previously known as He-Who-Thinks-Blogs-Are-Stupid... he doesn't think they are stupid, I was projecting) and I saw Finding Nemo when I was pregnant with Billy. Imagine my joy as the fertile, protective Mama clown fish and all but one of her progeny were mauled by barracuda in the first five minutes of that one...

Back to autism and Pixar. Because of Nemo, Billy loved fish.

So we bought a marine aquarium, and stocked it with Nemo, Dadda (Marlin) and Dory. Like the rest of Sydney, if we were to believe the exasperated fish shop sales folk.

Then we went to a very small (read, fairly unpopular) public aquarium here in Sydney. I won't add a  link. Don't want them to sue me for saying they are unpopular. Suffice to say, it's in a place where only big Sydney ferries go, and is close to a lot of good ice cream (both awesome bonuses).

There, we bought a dvd of Barrier Reef footage called Coral Sea.  It had subtitles. The beginning of a lifelong (I can confidently predict) love for Billy. He seriously buys dvds on the basis of whether they have subtitles or not. Within two viewings, he knew all the fish.

We were going to need a bigger aquarium.

We started going to the Sydney Aquarium, but... it was indoors, seriously busy and full of hidden hazards to the autistic (pump noises, darkness, glass bottom rooms and serious - Harry Potter soundtrack on 11 -  muzak). Too much. We backed away.

Where else could he see creatures, without feeling quite so assaulted (in a sensory sense)?

Taronga Zoo. Outside, lots of quiet spaces, a cool train running from one end to the other and a Sky Train as a bonus. Our first visit was marred by over-eager seagulls (stealing our chips and squawking, both cardinal sins in our family). We persevered. We had to, because I had already bought the first of many Friends of the Zoo yearly entry passes.

And oh, how grateful we are to Taronga Zoo.

There are animals there. Billy has a personal relationship with all of them. He knows (but thankfully isn't too distressed) when one of them moves enclosure. He knows what they eat, where they are from, who their close cousins...

There are LOTS of kids there too. And that's why we love it so much. When I say 'we' I mean the tall people in the house. Because we (tall folk) knew that we could get him (short, cute autistic fella) there by promising all his animal friends. We took the video camera with us that first time, and he's watched the video complete with annoying Mummy-as-speech-therapist voice over so... he knew all the animals very quickly. Over three years, through rain, shine and steam (Sydney summers are nasty), Billy has gone from swerving in a 10 metre circle around other kids to... well... tolerating Wizzy World.

At the zoo, he talks to the keepers. He corrects people ('Look at the lizard, Baby...' says an unsuspecting mother. 'Um... it's a Fijiian Crested Iguana,' says Billy, while slinging the baby the evil eye.

Well, the kid-hating's not completely gone. That would be one of those 'Iguanas Cured My Son's Autism' stories, and we all know they're a bit iffy. Yaks, maybe...

Oh no... what was my point?

Ah yes.

At the zoo today, we passed three separate children who were undeniably autistic. One angel faced child maybe a year or so older than Billy, flicking a well loved teddy bear repeatedly in front of his eyes and making one word requests. A two or three year old with his hands planted firmly over his ears as he shared his stroller with a giant bag of potato chips. And a very, very loud and large pre-adolescent, with no social or personal barriers to speak of...

People say the rising autism rates are because of better diagnosis - sharper teachers, more canny doctors (seriously, are you kidding me? where are they hiding these clever folk?)

I'm about to start my 43rd year on this planet, and in the last, oh, three of those years, I've seen more randomly placed (like not at school or sitting in the ST's waiting room) autistic people than in the four decades before.

I really hate to say this, but I think history will mark this period - the rise of autism, once we understand more about what the freaking hell is going on.

And, it will mark the rise of Pixar, whose stunning work I am hoping to take in in 3d this week... when Billy (the cinema hater.. another blog entry one day) goes back to school.

Told you I'd make it back to where I started!



Lisa said...

Since I became intimately acquainted with the spectrum, I too have noticed more and more autistic people just... around.

nyah, nyah, nyah, it takes one to know one!!!

Seriously, the more I see autism at home, the more I recognise it out and about- even subtle clues and signs. Hell, Val, I'd bet we could pick an autistic kid before their parents do half the time.

Of course, then you have to decide when/if/what to say to said parent about said child. Like the lovely woman at Wizzy World.

And as for special interests, we skipped zoos. Dinosaurs are a bit thin on the ground. We got to make do with pictures and books. Until the topic changed to all things Mediaeval, and we went falconing, and shooting bows and arrows, and...

We did however, on this journey, end up meeting the future Hedwig (he/she of Harry Potter fame).

Oh, and Val - kid-hating NEVER goes, but it doesn't matter so much when there's less age difference between Billy and the people he gets on with.

Flippantly yours, xxxx, etc

Fi said...

hehehe, I agree.
I don't set out looking for autism. It literally jumps out at me and I can't NOT see it!

Anonymous said...

You're so right. Autism is on the rise, not that there's anything wrong with it. (See Seinfeld onn gays if you didn't get that reference). I can spot the autists because I used to teach autistic boys. My children are not autistic. They're... just kids, whatever the correct term is for what used to be called "normal." Neurotypical, perhaps?
I don't feel superior for having dodged the autism bullet but my brief experience in the classroom taught me to notice when one of the tribe is about. And there are increasing numbers. Something is going on with our planet and whether you celebrate neurodiversity or not it makes one wonder where we're going and what will become of our world.