Since she was a baby, PanKwake has required more vestibular stimulation than most other people. She was a cranky baby until we found a swing at a yardsale. As long as she was rocking it, the world was right. And the moment, she was old enough to hit the playground, it was more, More, MORE. Higher. Faster. She was probably five when her father first took her to a funfair. She loved the rides. Even the ones I did not think she was old enough to go on. Especially those. Nothing has changed.
So, amusement parks are some of her favorite places to go. In this series, I will share some of our favorites, as well as some horror stories, and I will offer tips for managing the challenges of autism in these situations, hers and mine, which often come into conflict.
This relatively small and simple theme park is an hour and a half from us, near Tenby in Pembrokeshire, Wales.
We always travel by train, using cabs for short bits at the end, of course. The problem is that train service to this area is not regular, one train running every two hours or so. This trip did not start well as we missed our train. Our only options were to reschedule for another day or meet our friends in another town about half an hour away. Twenty minutes is PanKwake’s upper limit for car journeys. Nonetheless, for the sake of not disappointing her friends, she agreed to that.
Mind you; it was raining when we set off — alternating between that light mist that is characteristic of Wales and downpours. That might not seem like a good time for climbing trees twenty feet in the air. But with new wellies and raincoat, it was the ideal time for PanKwake. The group that would usually number around fifteen was just three, PanKwake and her friends. They had two instructors all to themselves, which turned out to be a good thing.
One of the biggest challenges of autism is executive functioning – those cognitive skills such as memory and organizing your thoughts. This proved problematic when learning the harness and pully systems. I could see PanKwake struggling to remember which clip went where and in what order. If it had been the full group of fifteen, I don’t think she could have managed.
She certainly could not have gotten the personal one-on-one attention she required from a very experienced guide when she dehydrated, and her blood sugar dropped, twenty feet up in a tree. I had packed snacks, loads of chocolate as we talked about last week, but it was all in our friend’s car. So, here I am racing to the snack shack for ice-cold water. Theirs was not cold enough, but the staff was excellent. First, they thought to put a couple of bottles in the freezer for a few minutes. Then, a young man ran across the park to another shop that had some. I got back, and the guide climbed to the platform with the water. Still, PanKwake was not fully recovered. I raced back to the car for chocolate while that kind man gently coaxed and encouraged PanKwake along. I was waiting with at the end of the zipline with candy in hand. I cannot compliment the staff enough for their patience and understanding of the complexities of additional needs. I don’t know if they receive training, but their efforts were well appreciated that day.
After we finished the Treetops portion of our day, PanKwake needed something more substantial to eat than just chocolate. Like many other autistic people, her sensory issues limits her diet. This is always a significant challenge with these things. One way of managing those issues is by doing your research. I had already scanned their website and knew that they offered jacket potatoes with cheese on the menu; this is one of PanKwake’s go-to foods. But she absolutely must have sour cream to go with it. But because I knew what was on offer, I had packed two tubs of it for our trip. We were all set.
We finished our day with their activities. I can’t really call them rides, because other than go-carts, and motorized intertubes, which are the water versions of those, the other things are simple. Zorbs, which are basically human ballons, archery, target shooting, a maze, and this giant trampoline-like thing in the ground were the ones we had time for.
The one unresolved hiccup of the day was the go-carts. Heatherton requires you wear a jumpsuit, unlike other places we have been. PanKwake took one look at those and said…no way. I tried to speak with the staff but got an unsatisfactory response about it being an insurance requirement. This makes no sense to me, given that other places do not require them. I can’t blame PanKwake. She prefers loose clothing and certain types of material. Add to that, the fact that these suits are used over and over by different people through the day…just…YUCK! There needs to be some flexibility for those with additional needs, and there was not. Thankfully, PanKwake has matured, so this disappointment did not ruin our day as it once would have.
By the end of the day, the rain had cleared up, and the crowds were a bit too much, for me more than PanKwake. Still, overall, it was a good day out with her friends. The best news is that Heatherton is a year-round facility, closed only briefly around Christmas. As home educators, we will be able to avoid the crowds in the future. Second, third, and future visits are always better for us anyway as we both know what to expect, as long as there are no major changes.
Yes, Treetops and Heatherton are places we will go again. Though, I do need to follow-up with the management to see what can be done to address the disability discrimination inherent with the go-cart situation.