London is a challenge for someone with autism.
My brother wanted to go to London. Why? To see Buckingham Palace.
It’s the simple things.
He visited London as a very young child, but can’t remember it at all. His only experience of the big city is what he sees on the news. So, I planned a trip. He thought the coach would be the preferred mode of transport, but over three hours on the M4 was not my idea of fun, so I booked the train.
He can’t even remember ever being on a train. I think the last time was when he was about five years old and we went to Dawlish for a day out with our Gran. We didn’t get off to a good start as the seats I had reserved weren’t there. In fact, the whole carriage wasn’t there! There’s always an upside though – we sat on the drop down seats in the wheelchair area, which meant he could see out sideways for the whole trip. Astounded at the green countryside and how when we approached a town, it became more built up.
Remember that he lives quite a lonely life and has a limited outlook. Things that we take for granted, are often things he has never seen. Like the Westbury White Horse on the hillside and the barges on the canal. When I said, ‘look at the horse on the hill,’ he was looking for a living horse. Things like going through a turn-style was a whole new experience for him, but he dutifully followed me and showed no real anxiety. He did say that it was all different, but he doesn’t have the capacity to explain how he actually feels. The noise, smells and just the speed of everything must be quite tricky for him to deal with.
Just like in the films!
I didn’t think until later in the day that he probably hasn’t been on an escalator for years, and here I was expecting him to go into the depths of the earth on a Tube! As we walked from Paddington Station down on the Bakerloo line, he said, ‘It’s just like in the films!’ He has only ever seen it on the TV.
Explaining where we were going, and which direction the train was coming from, I was praying it wasn’t going to be stacked with people. It was. Obviously, it was the Tube! Thankfully, most people vacated, and we even got seats. He was astounded that it didn’t take long at all to reach our destination.
‘I’ll just follow you’. He kept saying. Good job I knew where I was going – sort of! He puts a huge amount of trust in me realises that he couldn’t have done a trip like this alone.
We experienced the London Eye.
I thought a trip on the Eye would be an idea so he could see the view, although I think he was more interested in how long it took to get to the top and what if we didn’t get off quick enough, rather than the sights. Although, when I pointed out that the Thames curved round the corner, he announced thats it’s just like the Eastenders map. The simple things.
One of the most interesting parts to the visit, was the reaction of the people around us when I explained the things that we all find quite logical. I guess a bit like teaching a child, but he’s an adult. People would smile and I could see that they were also learning something. Learning that everyone is different, and things many of us take for granted are just mind-blowing to others.
‘Where did the other one get married?’
The open top bus with the Big Bus Tours was pricey, but worth it. It saved me negotiating different buses to get us to Buckingham Palace, and we did get to go over two bridges. I pointed out St Pauls as where Charles and Diana got married, and Westminster Abbey being the choice of Prince William and Kate.
‘What about the other one?’ He said. Trying to explain that Prince Harry got married at Windsor Castle and it wasn’t in London wasn’t easy, but his attention soon switched to Buckingham Palace. As the bus stopped at one end, it wasn’t until we walked to the front, that he could really see the size.
‘That’s MASSIVE!’ He exclaimed! ‘Why is that man walking up and down?’ Watching the guardsman marching back and forth.
Oh the joys of seeing his delight!
I got him to walk up the steps of the Victoria Memorial Statue so he could look back at the Palace, before we walked on. ‘We need to find another one of those Tubes’. He said, getting the hang of it now.
‘When William and Harry were small they would have played in this park then?’ He said as we walked through Green Park to get the Tube. Probably not, but it was too tricky to explain that firstly, they didn’t live in the Palace, and secondly they wouldn’t have played in a public park.
The important pint.
One thing I had promised him on his trip was a pint in a London pub. Getting off at Piccadilly Circus, so I could show him the bill boards, there were no pubs in on the main street. He was most annoyed that he had come all this way and there were no pubs! I suggested that we ask someone where we could find one, and without hesitation, he just stopped and asked a newspaper seller. ‘Excuse me, where is the nearest pub?’
Foe someone who doesn’t get out much, and is autistic, he has no trouble asking for directions! I was most surprised.
One street back from the main drag, we found a proper London Pub. Just like something that had been squished between two buildings in Harry Potter. Other than being a bit shocked at the price, he was most happy. The trip was complete.
A good day. A very good day. Thankfully on the way home we did have seats on the train!
Who would have through all the trauma two years ago, he would ever be able to have a day out like this? What a change, and so interesting how it’s the simple things that make him happy. The things we all take for granted.