Why I Kept Taking My Son With Autism to Bounce Houses


Probably about a 30-minute drive from where we live is a place for kids that’s filled with a variety of different bounce houses. Pay your 13 bucks, get your bounce on — fun fun. With my boy being out of school for Veteran’s Day, I thought we’d go spend part of our day there. After all, for a kid who works as hard as he does on any given day just to learn the things most of us take for granted, he deserves a day of fun — when I can make it happen. So off we went.

The truth is, this place wasn’t always so much fun for my boy. Four years ago, not long after we received our autism diagnosis, I brought him here. The result was a massive meltdown and me in tears, wondering why does it have to be so hard. The price of admission went down the drain. Do most families have to go through what we’ve gone through just to do something as simple as take their kid to a bounce house? No. But then again, we’re not most families.

We’re the family that spends our afternoons in therapy while others are at the ballpark. We’re the family that goes to restaurants on the early side of lunch or dinner to avoid crowds, long waits and potential stares from strangers. We’re the family that robs Peter to pay Paul to pay for therapy that is not covered by insurance in our state. And you know what else? You’d never here anyone in our family say, “Don’t you sass-mouth me!” LOL (a little nonverbal humor for ya). No, we’re not most families, but this is our family. Different, special, unique and one of a kind, and we do the best we can to navigate though a world that isn’t always so understanding of families like ours.

photo 1 During the past four to five years, we’ve made repeated attempts to the bounce house. In the beginning the result was so bad that it took several months between trips to have the courage to go back and try again. The first few times resulted in immediate meltdowns. We’d leave the joint within 15 minutes of arrival, and I’d drive home weeping and be in a funk for days. Over the next year or two, he no longer melted down the second we walked in the door. Instead he would just sit and hang out on the inflatable steps that entered the bounce house, never actually stepping foot inside of it, and we’d leave about 20-30 minutes later. Within another year and couple more trips after that, he went in the littlest house, never venturing out of that one specifically, and seemed to enjoy himself for at the most about 45 minutes. Our progress somewhat plateaued for the next year or so. But over the past year, he started to try one more bounce house, extending our time to an hour. Then the next trip, he’d try another — our time was up too an hour and 15 minutes.

Yesterday, I’m happy to report, he raced inside, clearly happy to be there. He bounced on everything and anything that required air to function properly. And we stayed almost a whopping two hours!

photo 2 (1) Now, had I given up, I would’ve never gotten to witness what I did yesterday. A happy boy, bouncing his heart out — and he got on the Big Daddy of bounce houses. One that had some pretty difficult stairs for him to figure out (He still struggles with hand-eye coordination). He struggled with this one. He looked at me, wanted help, but I couldn’t help him. All I could do was tell him, “Put your feet there, son” and point. Repeatedly, I would try and keep my instructions simple as I watched him struggle. It took a few minutes for him to get it, but he did. By golly he got it! I cheered him on as though he just crossed a marathon finish line. Had I tossed out the idea of ever going back to this place a few years ago, I would have never gotten to see that. I was proud. Proud of him… proud of us. It was over four years in the making.

While I could sit here and attribute this progress to years of therapy, patience, exposure and maturation — all of which contributed of course — the two main things that got us here are these. One, I didn’t give up when he wanted to. And two, more important, I didn’t give up when I wanted to. Buddy, you better believe I wanted to. I would say to myself, “Stupid bounce houses! Who needs you anyway?”

The reality is, no matter what it is on this unique and special journey, whether it’s the ability to talk, potty-train, self-dress, eat new foods, go out in public places, and yes, even something as silly as bounce houses, you’re going to want to give up…

Don’t.

photo 3

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