At a4adventure we provide bespoke outdoor adventures, shared experiences and remarkable memories for those families who need them the most - these include single parents and their children, foster families, families with autistic members, families with disabled members and sibling groups.
We focus on this because our son, George, is autistic and we have seen first hand the benefits and confidence that outdoor adventures have brought to him; however, with 16 years of mainstream teaching and delivery of outdoor activities behind us, we also know that mainstream providers aren't always able to give the time, space and resources needed for individuals to settle and overcome their personal barriers before engaging in activities in the manner and time-frame that other people do.
The following story of Explorer George and the White-Water Kayak is a great example of how and why we understand the need for patience, support, understanding and flexibility in your adventure day. It also highlights just how powerful the 'remarkable memories' part of our Mission really is!
Amongst our inventory of adventure gear we have some scaled-down kayaks that are designed just for children and the Perception Method is a great size for our 9 year-old George. We collected George from school and travelled to Llangorse, discussing if we should make an Explorer George video with the kayak on the lake. Usually the offer of making an Explorer George video is enough to give enough control to George to persuade him to engage with an activity but today we were going to have to work harder.
We arrived at the lake and discovered that George's new-found love of football was taking priority over kayaking and so we spent the first hour playing football with his Uncle Sean. Then, with the promise of food after boating, we tried to encourage George towards the lake ... and what a challenge that turned out to be! George wanted to go in the kayak but would not change his shorts for scruffy shorts that could get wet - well, that's OK, we will just try really hard not to splash or be silly enough to get him wet (and even if he did get wet, we had more than enough spare clothes for him). Then, once the shorts 'argument' was bypassed George decided that he simply would not take his school shoes off. Now, this was not such an easy argument to overcome - if his school shoes got wet then he really had no others to wear to school the next day! Eventually we resolved this barrier by helping George to carry the kayak towards the waters edge before putting him into it and dragging the kayak across the wet grass and into the water. Problem solved!
George took off with impressive confidence, albeit with his paddle held back-to-front, and headed straight out onto the water. With plenty of distractions along the way George was quite happy paddling along, keeping the kayak going where he wanted it to with pretty much no coaching or input from us. Most people would spend the first time in a kayak spinning around in circles as they try to understand and apply the paddle-strokes needed to control the craft but George has an instinctive knack for just being able to make the boat behave as he wants it to.
Reaching the lake led us to an unexpected change in George's attitude though and, despite having been on the same lake last year in a canoe (and at night no less) George decided that he was scared and didn't want to go any further out.
This moment became a little bit of a challenge for us more than George as we tried to understand whether his choice of word 'scared' really meant fear because he often confuses emotions and the words we use to describe them. As we tried to encourage him with games and activities George took us completely by surprise and burst into tears, sobbing: 'why are you making fun of me ... I have a headache ... I have been banging my head against the desk all day at school and I have a headache'.
George almost never tells us anything about school; he either genuinely can't remember or simply has no interest (or ability) to share his experiences with us. If we try to sneak information from him by asking 'what was the funniest / best thing / most interesting thing that happened today' we get the same stock answer 'nothing' as if we asked him straight-out 'what did you do today?' ... but here he was communicating how tough he finds school. In a completely unexpected moment, totally detached from our routine, our house, our actual lives, George shared with us how hard he finds things and in that moment enabled us to better understand the negative behaviours, stims and melt-downs that so often plague us in the afternoons and evenings following school.
Understanding that the experience is much more valuable than any pre-determined outcomes for an activity, we gave control to George who led us back to the launching-point ... and back to football.
Something else quite surprising happened a few days after our mini-adventure. As I sat editing the video of Explorer George and the White-Water Kayak, George was playing with Lego nearby and suddenly spoke to say 'I don't want you to use the bit with my unhappy face'; he then joined me to select which bits of the adventure he enjoyed the most as then as we watched the video together totally broadsided me as he reminisced and narrated each section of the video - you see, George isn't remembering the school shoes or the false fear of being on the lake, he is remembering that he led us out there, that him spinning the kayak wasn't 'boring' but was actually easy and that he was the winner getting back to the start again.
Remarkable memories isn't simply a marketing strap-line for us, it is arguably the most important part of your shared adventure with us. The memories have helped to connect us as a family and have empowered George, showing all of us his confidence and self-esteem. The memories will last longer and provide more support than all of the fun we shared on the day and we hope we can help you achieve these remarkable memories with your family soon.
George is our young son and we love him. He loves playing with Lego, making 'selfie' movies and playing in the woods. He is bright, caring, generous and creative but his strengths are counter-balanced by his difficulties in processing information, frustration, aggression and an inability to identify and express his emotions.
George is autistic and also displays traits of Pathological Demand Avoidance which is really unfortunate as our Health Board and Education Board refuse to recognise the existence of PDA and there is very little help available to support him ... or us. It has taken us five years and his expulsion from two schools before being able to finally secure a medical diagnosis of autism plus a Statement of Educational Need and the provision of one-to-one support in school. George's challenges and behaviour remains a challenge on a daily basis, both to him and to us, and we all work doggedly to enable his growth and development as he attempts to catch up with his school peers and to fulfil his own potential.
George has phenomenal personal qualities and is a captivating story teller. He sometimes struggles to identify his emotions and becomes incredibly frustrated by emotions that he doesn't understand as well as by his inability to express his feelings properly yet he can spin stories of wonderful detail and recount memories of his own from months and years before.
Even though George enjoyed micro-adventures like building a fire and telling stories we noticed that he was becoming increasingly resistant to going out from the house. Gradually it became as if George was anchored indoors and when we suggested going to places that he had previously loved he became anxious and aggressive and refused to go ... to the play-park, to school, to his favourite cafe.
We grew to understand that George was having difficulty visualising places beyond his 'here and now'; playing Lego on the floor right now was a firm reality for him but as he was unable to envisage the next location or task George's stress and anxiety would race out of control and into a melt-down at the thought of leaving this 'safe reality'.
We began using 'Now and Next' photo-cards to help him envisage what and where each next activity would be and use timers to help him transition between them. Even so, one day, George had refused to leave the house until we, quite by accident, mentioned making a film of us doing the activity and, as if by magic, George suddenly found a focus and control, a coping strategy for moving into the unknown, and Explorer George was born.
With each adventure that he has undertaken as Explorer George he has grown in confidence and self-esteem ... to the extent that when I followed him down a tiny cave passage and got wedged he simply turned to me and said 'haha, you're stuck. I am going to leave you now!'!!
George has three situations where he is at his most relaxed: playing Lego, watching programmes on his iPad and on an adventure. Each of these situations provides George with something (be that calmness, creative expression or confidence) but it is only the adventures that enable George to develop holistically, to develop his communication, his teamwork, his empathy and his self-esteem in a positive way in the company of those that he loves and trusts the most.
This first hand experience of how beneficial outdoor activities have been for George - in providing a safe space, increasing his Comfort Zone, developing his social skills and establishing positive experiences and feedback - only serves to reinforce our existing belief in the value of the Great Outdoors and Adventurous Activities.
Stay up-to-date with Explorer George's adventures on our YouTube channel.
The most significant feature of our experiences with George is that we completely understand the need for space, pace, privacy and understanding as we enable other people, in similar positions to George, to access the benefits that shared activities in the outdoors can bring. Our awareness, empathy and shared experience as parents and carers has shaped 'a4adventure' and focussed us on providing 'ability' 'acceptance' 'access' and 'achievement' for as many families as possible.
Will you join us?