Amusement Parks – Autism

Emma loved our day spent at Six Flags near Napa, California last week.  Typically Emma can be counted on to ride the most terrifying looking rides, but on this trip she immediately said – no.  She wanted to go on the little roller coaster, the one you get to before the rides called: The Corkscrew, Velocity and Medusa.  While Nic and their cousin Gaby ran off to get in line for a ride that looked as though it went up so high it might require an oxygen mask, Emma insisted she stay and “just watch” with Richard and me.

Emma entering the park

“Really Em?  But it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Richard urged, even though it didn’t look like it would be fun at all, unless you enjoy sky diving.  Gone are the days of the old traditional roller coasters where you actually could put your hands up without fearing death, where the vertiginous climb and then dizzying descent didn’t cause your entire life to pass before your eyes, where you exited the ride feeling intact and not as though you’d just avoided a heart attack or stroke.

“No, no, no, just watch.  Just watch with Mommy and Daddy?”

“Yeah.  Okay.”  Smart girl I thought to myself.  Still it was unusual and the first time Emma has shown anything other than excitement at an amusement park.

“It’s weird.  I can’t understand why she doesn’t want to go with Nic and Gaby,” Richard said, peering up at the tangled mess of metal rails called – Velocity.

“I don’t know.  Maybe it’s her ears…”

“I think she has to go to the bathroom.”

“Or maybe she was scared the last time Joe took the kids to that park a couple of weeks ago.  Remember?  He said that one ride, even Emma was scared.”

We continued to debate what could have gone wrong, but Emma stood firm.  She was very specific about which rides she’d go on and which ones she wouldn’t.  Any ride that caused her to be upside down, was rejected.  Not that I blamed her.  I felt slightly ill just watching the other kids shrieking and whipping around as though they’d been tossed into a human blender, without the blades.

But then we found the roller coaster called “Roar”.  An old style wooden roller coaster, the kind I remember from my childhood and even I felt a little jolt of enthusiasm.

“You could ride this one, Mom,” Nic said to me, patting my arm.

“You think?” I asked.  The thing was huge, but it did resemble the roller coaster I used to love riding when I was young.

“Totally, Mom.  You could do this one,” Nic said.

“I’m going to go too,” I announced.

“You are?”  Richard asked.

“Yeah, I used to love these,” I said.


When the ride was over, Richard said, “I think I broke my neck.”

“I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” I said.

“I’m not going on that thing again,” Richard said.

“That was horrifying,” I added.

“I can’t believe the kids want to go again.”  Richard shook his head in dismay.

“I think I have to sit down,” I said, motioning to a nearby bench as the children ran to get back in line.

By the fourth ride, Emma was beginning to get perseverative, which means she had become obsessive about riding and didn’t want to stop.

“Okay Em.  One more time, but this is the last ride.  Except it was too late, Emma couldn’t take waiting in the line, even though we had a disability pass allowing her to go to the head of the line, there were other children with disabilities also waiting.  She began to bite herself and scream.  Joe managed to keep her somewhat calm but by the time they were at the front of the line, Emma was miserable.

When she gets like this it’s as though her entire system crashes, like a computer.  There is nothing one can do to console her.

To be continued.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s