Sunday, November 6, 2011

Trainspotting and Freedom

Safety Guy has come back around the Aspergers Obsession Mountain to pay a visit to two of his old favorite subjects:  real railroads and model trains.  It seems like a couple times a year he cycles through his interests and returns to this particular one.  Right now he's full of plans to expand his layout, purchase new track and rolling stock, and get his long-desired sound system.  At least his timing is good:  Christmas is just around the corner, and I can suggest certain items or gift certificates to family members who ask what to get him.

This summer we expanded his sphere of freedom to include riding his bike outside our neighborhood and the streets nearby.  That includes going up to the main drag in town, and down to the railroad bridge that divides our town in half.   (It's not a big town - we're really Small Town U.S.A here, with all that implies.)  He loves to ride his bike down there and watch for trains.  Sometimes he takes his camera and gets photos or videos of the freight and Amtrak trains that ply this two-track main line east and west many times a day.  It's been good for him on several levels:  the self-confidence of independence, the exercise riding to/from the crossing, and the outdoors fun in nice weather to get him out of the house and away from the computer.

It's been a gradual process to let him have more independence.  We've been more cautious with him, because of his Aspergers, than we probably would have been with a neurotypical ("normal") young man.  But he's proven himself to be responsible with his freedom, so we've gradually increased his sphere of independence.  Next spring he'll be allowed to ride his bike to school, which is on the other side of town from where we live.  (If you could ride straight north as the goose flies from us, it's really pretty close, but to get from here to there you have to go to one of only two places you can cross north-south under the rail line, not quite half a mile away, so it's not really close by road.)

Letting Safety Guy range on his own has been a little nerve-wracking for me.  As responsible as he is, he still has Aspergers, with all that implies about emotional immaturity and dealing with social situations, and handling emergencies.  One day he came home and told me that he'd almost been hit by a car.  ("Almost" in his vocabulary could mean anywhere from 10 inches to 10 feet to 10 yards, so I don't really know how close his close call was.)  I had the immediate urge to tell him to stick closer to home.  But would that make any real difference?  He could have a close call a block away, or a mile away, and it wouldn't change anything.  What's important is that he wasn't hurt, and he's been more careful to look out for traffic since his scare.

So, he's still riding his bike into town to go trainspotting.  The weather will be unusually nice this week, so I suspect he'll be out quite a bit, waiting for the trains to rumble by.  Sometimes the engineers will blow the air horn for him, when he makes the fist-pumping gesture and smiles big.  It's good.