For Love of Trains part 2


As we travel in our Rv, our trips always include some sort of train activity.  It is a given, a necessity for survival when your autistic son lives for all things train.  As we plan our trips we include train rides or visits to train museums to ensure  harmony along the way.  These plans give us locations to see, and something for our son to look forward to, as he puts up with activities he might not otherwise enjoy.

In the small Northern California town of Dunsmuir, there is a small Amtrak stop, and the Union Pacific yard.  We happened to be camping in the area and decided to go to Dunsmuir for lunch and to watch for whatever train might arrive. Andrew brought his small video camera so  he could film the trains.

We parked nearby and headed toward the Amtrak stop. Looking at the schedule, we found that we would not be seeing Amtrak – it makes its pass through town very early morning.  Andrew knew, however, that other trains travel this route all during the day so it was only a matter of time.  As he set up his video camera  we noticed some workers on the other side of the track.  We didn’t have long to wait before the horn of a train could be heard, and the shout from Andrew “here it comes!”

Pulling in to the station was a Union Pacific train.  The train pulled in slowly and stopped at the small station.  As we watched, the 2 workers we had seen on the other side of the track  picked up their bags and headed to the cab. At the same time, the 2 workers that had just arrived on the train, grabbed their bags and climbed out. This  was a simple crew change,  exchange in a normal workday of some train employees. We didn’t speak to the workers but what came next was so kind- an act of generosity that  reminds me there are great people out there.

The new crew climbed in the cab and suddenly one of them leaned out of the cab and called to Andrew to come closer. Andrew walked  closer, and the employee  opened the side cab door and leaned out, handed him a  lantern!  As he handed it to Andrew, he claimed he didn’t need it anymore.   Just like that, this man gave a boy something he always wanted. As quickly as he came out of the cab he went back in, told Andrew to cover his ears, blew the train horn and they were off. Andrew calling for them to drive safely.

We watched as the train disappeared down the track, another day in the life of a train lover..






For Love of Trains part 1

Andrew LOVES trains. That is a fact that is obvious the moment you meet him, almost as obvious as the fact that he is autistic. For us, this love affair is part of our family experience, it is a daily staple. It is woven in our conversation,our travels and yes our home decor. The love he has for trains however, has brought opportunities and has brought out the kindness of people that is so incredibly heartwarming. Two recent incidents, with regard to trains, have touched our family in such a warm way.

We travel in our RV as often as we can, summer being the longest trips for obvious reasons. This year we had a few trips already so our summer trip was not as far or long. It was however, one of the best we have had.

Part of our trip took us back to Portland and the Oregon Rail Historic Foundation (, home of Andrew’s favorite train, the 4449.  Visiting this museum and seeing his favorite train, was all he talked about for most of our trip. The day came to visit the train and you would have thought it was Christmas.  We had been to the museum before so Andrew knew just what he wanted to see. As he walked around, you could see the excitement in his eyes, his love for these big machines just radiating from his every pore.

While speaking with the gentleman in charge that day, I commented about Andrew being autistic- he said he knew- has a son on the spectrum as well.  We finished our conversation and then he looked at Andrew and told him to follow him. They walked over to the 4449 train and he told Andrew to go ahead and climb up in the cab, ignoring the please keep off sign, then he called over one of the workers to climb up with him.  Here was a sudden kindness to a young boy from a man who could see the thrill this small act provided.  The thrill that he was IN the cab of his favorite train, the thrill to “drive” that train-if only for a moment even if it never actually moved. We can’t thank him enough.






I listen every day as my youngest son chatters on, and on, and on.  From the moment he wakes up, until the moment he falls asleep, he talks.  There was a time, until he was about 4 1/2, that he didn’t talk at all. To listen to him now, many would not understand him.  He tends to talk in movie, or you tube video clip sentences. Not exclusively, but quite a lot.  Being Autistic,  for him, this is one of his “things”  Those first years were  a struggle for all of us.  I so wanted him to talk, to be able to interact and share his thoughts and wants, and view on life.  I found, though, that words aren’t the only way to communicate.

We try so hard to have people think, or communicate with us the same  way we do, that when they don’t, we feel they are the ones doing it wrong.   Rather than expending all that energy to have them change, first we need to understand how they might view things, and tailor our communications in that direction.

I had a revelation about that when my son was about 4 years old or so.  One day he had my little point and shoot digital camera.   As he was playing, he liked to take pictures of things, mainly his trains.  At the end of the day, I happened to look through the pictures he had taken, and started to delete them to free some room on the camera.   At 4 years old, you don’t expect to see great photographs, and they weren’t great, but it suddenly became clear how he views his world.

I began to see what he saw, how he viewed things, what he thought.  A simple event of letting him play with a digital camera, gave me insight to my son that I might never have had.

At one point he turned the camera to himself and took a picture.

This  is what I saw.

old computer 705

There is a park nearby that borders the train tracks. My son loves the trains so yesterday we went there to watch as the train went through.  As I often do, I took some pictures of him. DSC_0681

After the train passed by and we talked about how fast and loud it was, he decided he wanted to take some pictures. I gave him the camera and he took a picture of the tracks.


He paused and looked at the picture he just took, and decided he wanted to turn around and take a picture  of the tracks going the other direction.


What struck me as he did this last picture, was he crouched down to get a different perspective.  His view, how  he sees his world, what is important to him.

I don’t know that he could explain why he crouched  down, or even realized that he did it; but it made me stop and realize, again, how he looks at the world.  It may be different from you or I, but it’s clearly not wrong, just different.

On His Own

As a parent, we all worry about our kids, and hope they have a happy fulfilled life as an adult.  We put all our energies in teaching them right from wrong,  manners and basic living skills.  Throw in a diagnosis of autism and a whole new set of worries come up.  Will he  ever drive a car, get a job, live on his own; what will happen when I die?

I have done a  lot of reading and I have a lot of hope for my son. I try to be realistic with regard to his abilities. I know he will never do many things but I know he can do so much.  One book I read was called  A Friend Like Henry – By Nuala Gardner.

Some of her descriptions of her sons behavior were so like my son, I found myself laughing and crying and shaking my head in understanding.  In the story, the family decides to get a golden retriever as a pet/ therapy dog for their son.  They name the dog after Henry the green engine of Thomas the Tank fame,of which their son was a huge fan. .  Remarkably it does wonders for their son. The calmness of the dog gave their son focus and he  began to learn things the family never thought possible.

Recently  we have been reading more about service dogs for our son, and have had conversations regarding the feasibility, expense, benefits and drawbacks of such.  When we started looking we had a small dog- a chihuahua we rescued and didn’t think it was the right time.  After losing our dog to old age and illness, we still didn’t think it right yet for another pet.  Until, of course, our son decided he needed a new pet. He exclaimed he needed a “man dog named Henry”.  I asked him why Henry – thinking because he had a grandpa Henry- nope Henry like the green engine !   Wow I had chills, and hope.

We went about researching some more on service dogs and found that it is possible, but quite costly. I know, what price do you put on independence?  Also we found that it could take over a year to receive the dog.  We were hoping for something faster.  More research on just a new pet.   After much consideration, we decided to look at a golden retriever.

Sept 2 we went to the home where the dogs were. The owners had the mom and dad dog and the puppies. We looked at the 2 males and one came up to me and with his big brown eyes gave me that look.  You all know it.  Pick Me, Pick me.  And we did.  And yes his name is Henry.

For the last 2 months we have all been learning.  Henry is figuring out he lives here, and our son is figuring out he likes his new friend.  We are fortunate enough to live around the corner from the dog park.  Every day we take Henry for his walk and he likes to join his new friends in play. Lately  our son has brought him there by himself, just before I come home from work and I stop on my way, then he takes Henry home.  Our son has a walkie-talkie and dad is at home with the other.  Our son gets upset when I get there because Henry runs to me.  He tells me- NO Henry is with me.  Today our son was allowed to take Henry there on his own- and bring him home on his own.  For anyone who has an autistic child, you may know – this is huge.

Our Henry may not be a trained service dog yet, but he has certainly done wonders for our son. I can’t wait to see how much more our son will grow


So it appears

My youngest son is autistic. Yep, there, I said it!  Out loud and for everyone to know.   He is different than I am, than you are, than most people are.  He’s almost 14, as tall as I am ( though that may not being saying much since I am not all that tall)  and becoming quite a young man.

I think about our judgement on people just by quick appearance. To look at my son, he appears “normal”  In fact, my favorite comment has always been ” he doesn’t LOOK autistic”

It’s a struggle to fit in when you are so different from most people.  Harder still, when you don’t know you are different. I watch as he tries to talk to people.  I see their reaction when he recites some line from a movie or you tube video he has watched. Usually, it is  one of  ???????? puzzled stare.  Case in point.  In the elevator at the baseball stadium ( game 5 A’s vs. Tigers) .  My son turned to the smartly dressed media type man (see, appearances being assumed by me/judgement by his clothes and I.D. lanyard hanging around his neck) and rattled off something in his rapid fire way.  The poor man had no idea what my son said- just stood there, puzzlement on his face, then quiet relief as the elevator door opened and we parted ways.

I try not to judge people by quick appearance, but I know I do. I’m sure I am judged by others the same way.  I bet they wonder why I don’t just go home and take a nap- I clearly look tired!  Some days I wonder that about me too.

So I try to help my son with ways to “fit in” to look less autistic, to become “normal”.  Maybe if I can teach him that people wont judge him.  But, then again , if he’s like everyone else, wouldn’t we miss his uniqueness? That which makes him special? That which is pure joy?