I wrote in my book, Full Tilt Boogie, that for sure no burro gets up in the morning and thinks, “Dang, I think I’ll run up a 13,000-foot mountain pass today.” And likewise, no autistic kid gets up in the morning and thinks, “I think I’ll conform to societal norms today.”
I go on to explain that the real key to success with either burros or autistic children is extreme patience and allowing them to find their own way.
This past summer I entered the pack-burro racing season with a 7-year-old jack named Teddy that I’d literally liberated less than a year ago from a small corral in the middle of a San Luis Valley junk yard. Colorado’s pack-burro races are 9-29 miles in length, at high altitude, and since no riding is allowed, we run, jog and power-hike the entire distance alongside our animals, which are loaded with 33 pounds of gear. Despite my relative lack of natural ability, over the years I’ve been fortunate to have had some great success at this sport, including seven world championships, mostly by consistently showing up.
Also this past summer, my son Harrison entered his second season of running on the Custer County Middle School cross-country team. His first season I journaled in my short book, Endurance – A season in cross country with my autistic son.
The parallels between the neurodiverse mind and the animal world never cease to amaze me, and my belief in sport as a metaphor for life seems to be strengthened with age and with the challenges of raising a neurodiverse child.