“There has to be something better than this.” I said to my husband Chris after our exhaustingly disappointing family holiday in rural NSW. Our two boys, Jack and Heath, 9 and 5 at the time, both have autism, significant developmental delay and epilepsy. We were in great need of a family holiday so I had decided to source a number of different types of holiday houses and locations, to see what worked for our family.
The venues needed to cater for kids who would climb on furniture, kick walls, pull down curtains, smash breakables and escape normal enclosures. A pool would be ideal as our kids love water…any water. Jack and Heath are not naughty – their behaviours are part of their disorders. Sometimes we can influence how they react, but for the most part we have to shape the environment to their needs.
I realized the homes I booked would not be ideal, but thought it was worth exploring whether we could have a good time together away from home. I quizzed agents about each place and finally booked three different places.
We knew the first house was two-storied but I thought I had established that the staircase was enclosed. Not enclosed enough. Jack spent his time climbing to the top stair, going over the banister in order to hang from a thin edge of the stair while reaching for a heavy pendant light which was tantalizingly within reach. It was a good drop to the floor, so for five days Chris and I chased Jack up and down the stairs, to keep him out of danger. The pool in the backyard had been the attraction in this setting, but the filter had broken down so now the water was green and murky. Try explaining to my water-obsessed two that they should not go in. All their focus went on climbing the pool fence and they did not care about the slime.
So we spent all our time at the local swimming pool and driving around the area, the house a hazard rather than a refuge.
The second house was single storied but the fenced-in child-friendly yard proved no challenge for Jack. He could bend down the chicken wire and was constantly in the neighbour’s yard and sometimes the house. The house itself was charming. But every ornament, vase and pretty side table had to be packed away in our wardrobe. The under-bench kitchen cupboards were full of beautiful glasses and dinner ware. Heath loves the sound of smashing china or glass, so everything had t be put out of reach.
Once again we spent our five days away from the house, at the beach, running with the boys to entertain them and tire them out. Exhausting!
House number three was a farm stay – the house itself was tiny – two and a half bedrooms rather than the advertised three. It was full to the brim with historic bric-a-brac…a minefield of breakables. I took photos of each part of the house so that I would know where things belonged. Then I packed everything away out of reach of curious hands and clumsy feet!
The house was set on 25 acres of land with all kinds of farm animals. Jack was entranced with the sheep and for a moment, as Chris and I sat on the front verandah, drinks at hand, we thought we had found the perfect holiday destination. Jack started to chase the sheep down the hill. He ran and ran until we realized that he was disappearing, a small dot in the field below. Chris set off after him, catching him as a huge thunderstorm arrived. After that, each day, Chris spent hours running behind Jack and the sheep, sometimes picking up the trail of clothes discarded by Jack who loves to be naked. In the meantime I kept watch on Heath who was busy throwing anything he could find into the mud outside the house. Once again it seemed easier to be away from the house, driving aimlessly, this bringing pleasure to no-one.
So that was it really….the trigger for the idea of a specialized holiday venue, a purpose built house secluded, private, with built-in sensory and water areas, close to facilities for all members of a family, affordable, in easy reach of a major metropolitan area. I spoke with other families, heard their stories: I researched what is available here and overseas. Nothing quite fits the bill and I became more and more convinced that we need a new resource.
Now we have an Association dedicated to realizing this dream, the establishment of Puzzle House. If we pull it off, that holiday experience three years ago will have been worth the agony!