Meet Harry, the 4 Year-Old Doing UTC13
Harry is four years old, nearly five. In those years, he’s never found a social group he feels comfortable in. Pretty much everything he does is one-on-one.
And here we are – Harry and I – contemplating Lisbon to Saigon.
This journey has sort of been in the planning for many months. We’ve embraced train travel since one fateful evening back in May 2012, only a matter of weeks before Harry’s 4th birthday.
On that evening, I sat with Harry in an unremarkable office and listened to an unremarkable man say the words I both longed for and dreaded in equal measure. ‘Yes, Mrs. Bower. Harry is on the spectrum’. Tears followed. Partly relief at finally knowing that this wasn’t in my head. Partly grief at finally knowing that this wasn’t in my head.
The grief surprised me, for this diagnosis was not a surprise though I now realise it’s a common phenomenon and rather necessary as a way to let go of the hopes and dreams that had been held for the child.
Two days later the letter arrived, confirming our meeting and going into more detail on the raft of assessments undertaken on Harry. Harry had a condition called High Functioning Autism. There were pages and pages of notes, most of which were not new information for me, but one point stuck out. Harry’s IQ was somewhere in the range of 160 to 200… Now IQ tests are, as far as I can see, rather subjective, so let’s just settle on ‘damn high’. This changed everything.
Harry’s speech was still slow, it appeared he wouldn’t or couldn’t take direction or follow simple instructions, he struggled to remember names, was often destructive… It was easy to categorise him as ‘slow’. One friend actually said it to my face.
I am sure many more said it to themselves.
Now, we had something to work with. Now, we understood why Harry struggled with certain situations and why his fascination and thirst for knowledge were not what you would expect from an average 4 year old. But, in those early days, grief still played a part, and we were not ready to share this information far and wide so we did the best thing for Harry and for us: Cancelled his birthday party and booked him on the Jacobite Express in Fort William instead. Travel to and from Fort William was by the Caledonian ScotRail sleeper train. Harry had a ball!
Since that day, all holidays have been taken to accommodate Harry’s love of all things trains.
We completed LEJOG – by train (And I will be eternally grateful for the wonderful members at LEJOG association for welcoming our rather eccentric form of travel), we went to Soller in Majorca because it has a little wooden tram that runs to the coast and a little wooden train that runs to Palma. And, now, we are here.
We are heading to the USA later this summer to cross it by train, but first… we are looking at travelling from Lisbon to Saigon, by train, in under 30 days.
This trip is not without issues… It means leaving my three year old daughter in the care of my parents and it means taking Harry out of what little ‘normal’ routine he has… but these things can be organised.
Sometimes, you just have to go with the adventure!
Karen Bower and her son Harry signed up to do the Ultimate Train Challenge today.