The Public Death Match

DISCLAIMER – I got Max’s full permission to tell this story publicly. In no way do I ever want to embarrass or humiliate him, so I fully explained to him what I was doing prior to posting. We had a good laugh about the story that I’m about to tell, and it’s purely meant as reading enjoyment and a window into our life.

We had an incredibly awesome week last week. We spent seven days in our family’s collective favorite place on earth – Whistler, BC. It wasn’t short on autism challenges however, but like I’ve always said, “If we’re gonna get yelled at by our son, might as well do it somewhere awesome.”

On our way back home, even though we were exhausted and still had a long way to go, we decided to stop off at the PNE fair at Playland in Vancouver. It’s a small amusement park that hosts Vancouver’s annual fair. Our kids love rides. I had spent time there as a kid, and I really wanted to show my kids around and let them ride all the stuff I did as a kid – especially the old wooden roller coaster.

I knew I was going to have a hard time getting Max to ride the coaster. There have been so many things over the years, though, that he’s gone into kicking and screaming and come out on the other side super excited. Boating, flying, Disneyland, skiing, bike riding – you name it. If something weird has happened during any of those events, getting Max to go back and try again is incredibly difficult. But eventually he comes around and radically shifts his attitude toward whatever it is we’re dealing with. But it takes a lot of yelling and fighting to get there. I know. It’s weird and hard. Some people don’t understand it. But it’s how we roll.

Getting Max to get on that coaster was going to be a fight – I knew it. It was probably going to be a public display of the intensity that goes on in our home. I was ready. I felt good going in. I had stretched and taken several deep breaths. You see, I had been there before – and I had won. And Max’s life has been blessed by him surrendering and trusting me. Take Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure for example. Up until this event, getting him on that ride had been the biggest blowup we (and maybe California as a whole) have ever seen. But as it turns out, that ride is now Max’s favorite ride in the world. So with that in the back of my mind, I had to shoot for the coaster at Playland.

We headed over toward the coaster as a family, and when we got close enough, Max realized what was happening and took off running. He’s not a flight risk, so I just stood and watched for a second. This was a new element I hadn’t trained for. The dude is getting pretty fast. How am I going to talk him into anything if I can’t catch him?

I slowly walked toward him, and acted as calm as possible. “Why did you run off, bud?” I asked at an elevated volume so he could hear me over the crowd. He had ran and stopped right in the middle of the midway – the busiest foot traffic in the park. “I’m not going on that stupid coaster!” he yelled back. At this point I was getting closer, but he wouldn’t let me within about 15′. “Wait a minute,” I said, “Who said anything about going on the coaster?” He wasn’t having any part of this conversation. “I know what you’re doing! I’m not going on that stupid coaster!”

You gotta give the kid credit. My tactics are evidently very transparent, and he knows me well. So I switched gears.

“Dude, you know we do this all the time. You freak out about something, eventually trust me, then end up loving it.” He still wasn’t having it. What transpired next was something I’ve never seen before. The best way I can describe it is if Chuck Norris were the lead singer of a heavy metal band.

Still not letting me within about 15′, which gave the hundreds of passersby full view of everything, he went into maybe the coolest freak out seen in British Columbia history. He started with an enormous high kick that would have made the Van Halen version of David Lee Roth jealous.

Next, he gave me a 1-2-3 Bruce Lee stomach punch combo (still 15′ away). He then took his hat off and tomahawk chopped the air with it before slamming it back down on his head, followed by another enormous high kick. Then came the frozen-still-arms-crossed-death-stare. That only lasted for a couple seconds though before he let out at the top of his lungs, “I’M NOT GOING ON THAT STUPID ROLLER COASTER.”

“Wow dude, that was really impressive!” I glanced up and noticed that every last innocent bystander was walking slowly to see who would win. But apparently my comment was seen by Max as a diversion. Like I said, you gotta give him credit, because that’s exactly what it was. So off he went one more time through the exact same routine. I’m not sure how many calories he burned, but it was a lot. And he HAD to have pulled a muscle. My hamstrings were sore just watching!

The only difference with the second routine was that it ended in tears. He was screaming at me and crying. While this has happened several times before, this was different. Usually I see anger in his eyes, which can be talked through eventually. This time I saw fear. It was pure, raw fear of heights, speed, and sensory overload. I hadn’t seen it before, but I knew that’s what it was. I gave up the fight.

I motioned to Jamie and Maci to continue on to the coaster ride. Max saw me do that and his whole countenance changed. He came in for a hug as I said, “Let’s go do a different ride, buddy. Just you and me.”

While this post is meant to be a funny story with a happy ending, I guess there are a couple points to make as well.

As a parent of an autistic child, only you will know what is best. There are lots of people that love us dearly that admittedly don’t understand our process. That’s OK. The only thing we ask is that they trust us. And they do. Only you will know which battles to pick, which to win, and which to surrender. Stand firm in your parenting. Do what you know is best for your child, even if others don’t fully understand it. And when you know you’ve done the right thing, and been the best you can be, you don’t have to apologize for it.

Also, you’ll eventually get over the stares of people around you when stuff goes sideways in public. It took us a long time to get past it. I realized during this episode that I didn’t care one iota of what the hundreds of people walking by thought of the situation. Throughout the whole ordeal, I only glanced once. And I didn’t really care about what I knew I was going to see. Let them stare. Let them get a glimpse of the Youngquist life. Let them think what they’re going to think. I’m fine with it. I’m trying to be the best dad I can be and quite frankly, since it ended well, I hope everyone learned something.

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