Things my autistic kids love: Public transit


The boys have been attending a day camp for the last two weeks and yesterday was the final day. As far as I can gather, they had a blast, with lots of swimming, trips to the park and outings to Woodie Woodchucks Centre Island, the Ontario Science Centre and Riverdale Farm. Next year, I want to go to camp.

Their camp was based at the Geneva Centre for Autism which is about a 60 to 90 minute journey via public transit from where we live. As I didn’t want to spend all my day on the TTC, I day camped in Starbucks after dropping them off. For the boys though it’s still meant LOTS of time on the TTC and not just any TTC either. Davisville station is TTC nirvana because not only does it have buses, elevators and trains, most importantly, it has lots of great spots to stand and look at trains. It doesn’t have streetcars but that’s ok with us as we have those in our neighbourhood.

One of the reasons I’ve always been relieved that I don’t drive is because the boys have grown up walking and taking public transit. Yes it was a pain getting a double stroller to all the appointments they had after they came home from the NICU but I had a phenomenal stroller which enabled me to still get everywhere, regardless of the weather. I hear of people whose autistic children seem to barely go outside – they go from the house to a car seat or stroller to a building then back home again. It’s not that I don’t understand parental fears about their children’s safety but the more I’ve exposed my kids to the outdoors, streets, roads, subway platforms and so on, the easier our outings have become. Believe me, I’ve been reduced to a sobbing mess at times but the payoff has been enormous:

  • With respect to the stuff that’s tough for the boys to deal with, we’ve been able to develop coping strategies together that work for them.
  • There’s only one of me and there’s two of them. It’s not like going out in the community was going to get any easier if I put it off and they got older, faster and heavier, so working out how to do this successfully while they were smaller has worked well for us.
  • My kids have a right to enjoy public spaces too and actions speak louder than words.
  • We know that inclusion in schools has benefits for non-disabled people as well as for kids with disabilities. Why should that just apply to schools? How are people supposed to really accept autistics if they never actually, you know, see and meet them?
  • Owen has always been very low-toned. He was never a huge fan of walking but the more he’s walked, the easier it has become for him and the stronger he gets. He now loves to run (in spurts) and I always have books on hand so we can sit and read if he’s not into something his brother wants to do, like the playground.
  • Having two boys that are completely different has its challenges. Owen will often be curled up on the couch just hugging the pillows while Oliver is bouncing off the walls. The great thing about walking (like any proprioceptive activity) is that it regulates both of them. It revs Owen up a bit and calms Oliver down. All three of us end up much happier.
  • Lastly, with respect to public transit in particular, it’s an experience that is a profound joy for both boys to experience. On our way home from camp one day I managed to grab some pictures that I just had to share with you.
Watching TTC trains at Davisville station

Watching the trains

In the morning and afternoon we would spend some time watching the trains as they go in and out of Davisville station. Owen could do this all day – lots of happy hand-flapping going on here.

At Davisville station itself we get the opportunity to take two elevators.

Elevator at Davisville station

Is it coming? Where is it?

Once Owen sees the elevator coming up he breaks into, not just hand flapping but something I call his flashdance – running on the spot excitedly on the balls of his feet. There’s usually lots of ‘eeeeee’ and ‘ooooooo’ sounds as well. It’s wonderful to watch him so animated and happy.

OMG it’s here! Flap flap!

Inside the station itself, there’s another opportunity to view the trains, this time from above.

So. Cool.

And then there’s another elevator….

More flapping!

When we change subway lines we ride the escaltors, which isn’t exciting per se, but it is cool.

Stand on the right, hand on the rail!

The journey in the morning begins with a streetcar ride and at the end of the day it ends with one too. Both boys are pros when it comes to these.

Owen’s focused on finding a seat

Oliver always takes the window seat and his laid-back brother never seems to mind, especially if he has a book to read.

I think it was Your Personal Penguin we were reading that day, a classic from Sandra Boynton

Sitting on the subway with the boys is a blast. Owen is in heaven watching the doors open and close at each station stop and Oliver chats away (recently it’s been mostly about Dora the Explorer) in his echolalic fashion. Our journey goes something like this:

We’re approaching a station.

Me: Now the train is going to…

Oliver: Stop!

Owen, using his device:

Stop, using Proloquo2Go


Me: yeah, that’s right!

Owen: ‘eeeeeeeeeoooooo’

Me: ‘eeeeeeeeeoooooo Hmm, are you excited Owen?!’

Oliver: Owen’s excited because of the doors.

Me: I think so too.

Oliver: Who do we ask when we don’t know which way to go?

Me: The map?

Oliver: The map! That’s right!

Me, singing: I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map!

Oliver: Mummy STOP! (this is his current reaction to all adults singing, laughing as he says it)

Owen: ‘eeeeeeeeee’

Me: Oooh, what’s the train going to do now Owen?

Owen, on his device:

Saying go, using Proloquo2Go


Me: Yeah! Go train go!

Oliver: Mimo the Hamster is lost!

Me: Oh no, how can we find him?

Oliver: First, we have to cross the rope bridge, then we have to go through the jungle and then we go to the pyramids!

Me: So, bridge, jungle, pyramids?

Owen, jumping up as we approach a station and flapping his hands: Oooooooooooooo!


…and so on. As you can see, my kids don’t have to hide who they are in public, they get to stim as much as they want and they encourage me to join in with them. It’s just pure, unadulterated joy; for all three of us.


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6 Responses to Things my autistic kids love: Public transit

  1. Ib Grace July 27, 2013 at 11:29 am #


    • OMum22 July 27, 2013 at 11:34 am #

      TRAINS! I knew you would 🙂

  2. Diane July 27, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Erin loves trains, too. Best day ever is riding on the train to go to Gramma’s house. With our older kids, Erin had no choice but to be out and about. I do, too, think it is worth it, and I have as many coping strategies as she does.

    • OMum22 July 27, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      Great point Diane about our coping strategies. One of the incentives I use to get Owen out when he’s not really quite gung-ho about it, is to say we’ll go for a cookie… which also allows me to grab a coffee or tea too.


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