Any family with a three year old and six year old would be strained at the edges trying to keep the kids from going insane on such a long journey. With an autistic child, it's a little harder.
We had no idea how Natalie would react to such a prolonged absence from home, sleeping in a different hotel every night, constantly in new unfamiliar environments.
Before we left, my wife had the idea that we should give Natalie a digital camera, and see what happens. At the very worst, nothing would happen. At the very best, she would have something to focus on for the trip, and perhaps give us an insight into what she sees as interesting and photo-worthy.
Before we strapped her into her car seat at the beginning of the trip, she had never even held a camera in her hands. Like the good, diligent parents we are, we gave her the briefest of instructions ("point it, point it POINT IT HERE HERE HERE oh for christs sake"), showed her how to zoom in and out, how to turn it on and off, and how to review the pictures she had taken.
And that's when something happened.
As the day progressed, she started to move to things with textures.
Then things with perspectives and lines.
Some of her photos seemed to be a glimpse directly into her soul. Most of the outdoors shots were of places that had a melancholy sadness about them, places of solitude.
And then came the day, at the top of Rogers Pass, in Glacier National Park, when she turned the camera around, and took a picture of herself.
After that, she started snapping people. And when we got to the wedding, in place, full of strangers and loud noises, a place where she would usually retreat to a corner, she was out on the dance floor, in the middle of the hullabaloo.
All of this was wonderful, and wholly unexpected. We were hoping for a distraction. We got an epiphany.
But the most wonderful thing of all was that she had a muse. There was one thing she wouldn't stop taking pictures of.
We thought that a camera might keep her occupied on a long drive. We never thought it would open up another door to her room. But she opened it.
I made a small video with her, talking about some of her photographs: http://autistical.blogspot.ca/2012/07/natalie-photargruffer.html