Special Needs Kids and Adventure: when is it too much? (or not enough!)

[I’m skipping around in sharing our Colorado adventures. Stay with me, I promise the chronological ordering is not important!]

It was our fourth day in Colorado and we were looking to take a break from our daily mountain escapades. Right down the road from our cabin was a riding stable. On a whim we decided to check it out. Little Man loves horses and although he hasn’t ridden much, it’s something he absolutely enjoys. Big Brother had never even seen a horse up close and personal before. Big Brother is not really into animals, or so we thought.

When we reached the stables, I asked Big Brother if he wanted to ride a horse. He quickly said “yes.” A nice man took us out back to see the horses and brought one near. Big Brother immediately put his nose against the horse’s face. It took him a year to even pet our sweet, gentle and very old family dog…but this giant creature he had known all of two seconds was invited into his close, personal space without even so much as a slight hesitation.

So the staff kindly placed him upon this horse–the most kind-hearted and mild-mannered horse they had–and led Big Brother and his horse around in a small circle.

I held my breath, waiting for the meltdown that I was sure would ensue….


He sat on the saddle quietly, listening to the horse’s footsteps and reaching down to smell her back.

I was baffled. Here was a child that “does not respond to discipline,” and “cannot sit still for any length of time,” and who normally has continuous, disruptive verbal stimming. Here was a child that did not like to be high up in the air, deathly afraid to even ride on Daddy’s shoulders.

And here he was now, as quiet and still as a mouse, sitting up high upon a large creature, listening closely to the giant beast breathing.

The man looked at me, waiting to see what I thought.

“Let’s do it,” I said. And just like that, I found our family about to embark on a horseback ride through the Colorado praire.

Big Brother ready and waiting to go

Little Man rarin’ to go

“This is ludicrous,” I thought to myself as we trotted out onto the praire. “You just can’t take Big Brother out on an hour trek into the wild on a horse, he’ll never be able to do it. He needs more time to practice and learn about how to ride. He can’t even make it through an entire day of school without a violent outburst or having to be restrained, What are we doing here?!”

But I quieted my brain and instead, listened to my gut. “I think he can do this,” it whispered.


And so I realized that with the help of the very kind and compassionate staff, Big Brother was safe and that he could, indeed, do this. In fact, this was the first time in his life that he was doing something without direct help. That feeling must have been overwhelming for him.


Before I knew it, our ride was over. Somewhere along the way I was able to see Big Brother in a new light…from a perspective I’ve never seen before. And in that moment, I felt ashamed for ever thinking that he couldn’t do it. I’m his mother for crying out loud! I, most of all, should be the one to know he is capable of so much more than this world gives him credit for. As for the special and instantaneous bond between Big Brother and his horse? Well, it’s not at all surprising given the many stories of similar happenings in the autism community (check out the documentary Horse Boy, for example.)

As for me, I learned an important lesson that day. Sometimes you have to cast rational thought aside and follow your instinct in order to accomplish that which seems impossible. If adventure is about sailing away from the safe harbour, Big Brother must have traversed the entire globe that day.


“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
― Shel Silverstein