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?