We have gone to the same beach house rental every summer for the past six years. Every year, my now 10-year-old son Jack who has autism and anxiety hates to leave the house. He gets anxious when we do new things or go to places he hasn’t been. He could barely tolerate the beach. It is too hot, too sandy, too wet, too windy. It is sensory overload. If we can get him to go on the beach, it is short-lived and one of us has rushed to get him back to the house before or during a meltdown.
The last summer we were here, walking on the boardwalk was filled with anxiety and the fear of people looking at him and following him. I explained that everyone was just walking to the same place, they were not following him. It didn’t matter what I said; he was happiest when he was in the house. He has three older siblings, so we would take turns staying at the house with him.
This year, the day before we were to leave, my 17-year-old daughter showed him the Pokemon Go game. He was hooked. He asked to walk up to the library, the ball field, the school. My child who hates to leave the house is asking to not only to leave it, but to walk! I was intrigued, so he explained the app to me. This is the best app ever! The next morning when we left for vacation, there was very little stressing. It was filled with excitement and anticipation of what Pokemon we could catch along the way.
Rest stops are no longer feared with people looking at him and food he won’t eat; they are potential Pokemon catching spots. The beach was where you could catch water Pokemon, so off to the beach he went. In the process, he had fun at the beach. He built sand castles with his sister. He laughed playing in the waves. I watched as he slowly began to trust holding onto his father as he went a little further into the water.
For six years I have watched other families play in the ocean with their kids. This was the first time I got to watch my son play in the waves, and scream with excitement. He would look to me for reassurance now and then, but mostly he was making sure I wasn’t missing what he accomplished.
Jack has asked to walk the boardwalk multiple times a day. On the first day of vacation, a teenager was stopped by a bench on the boardwalk. He looked up at my son and said “Did you catch the Pidgey?” I watched as my son almost made eye contact with this boy and said yes. Jack quickly looked away, back at his phone, but I could see the pride on his face. He was succeeding at something cool. He was just as good as this random teenager at catching Pokemon.
One night I told Jack we were going to try walking a different way home from the boardwalk. He was not happy with me. I could tell he was getting stressed. It wasn’t the “normal” way we walked home, it was different. He began to talk rapidly, as he does when he is stressed. I almost suggested we turn back and go the “normal” way home, when an Ivysaur Pokemon appeared on his phone. We stopped walking, he caught it, and magically his anxiety started to dissipate. He was caught up in the excitement of catching that Pokemon; it no longer mattered that we were walking on a different street home.
My son has a very limited diet, and he has a hard time tolerating sitting at a table with unfamiliar food and smells. Going out to eat almost always ends with a meltdown. We would have someone stay back at the house with him, or take turns eating while someone sat in the car with him.
This year we all went to a restaurant that had outside dining. We were able to get a table and sit outside on a porch. My son was able to walk up and down in front of the restaurant where we could keep an eye on him catching Pokemon, while the rest of us leisurely ate our meal.
Tonight as Jack and I were walking back home from yet another trip to the boardwalk, a group of preteen kids on bikes stopped near us, shouting as they were trying to catch a Bulbasaur. Instead of turning away and hoping they wouldn’t notice him, Jack pulled out his phone and proceeded to catch the Bulbasaur too. The kids rode off on their bikes, but Jack felt included, for he too was searching for Pokemon.
Jack asked me if people in Antarctica were looking for Pokemon. I didn’t know if they were, but what I do know is that Pokemon Go has made my son’s world larger… Thank you Pikachu!
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