Taking My Autistic Daughter To See The Forests of the World

Photography: Arabella Carter-Johnson

By Arabella Carter-Johnson

Following my daughter Iris has always been an adventure, her paintings have inspired people throughout the world allowing us to see beyond a diagnosis. We believe “Different is Brilliant“, raising positive awareness for Autism. It’s about following the lead of your child and building on strengths instead of focussing on the weaknesses.

All was well until gradually I felt a shift in her. She wasn’t as engaged anymore. My methods of educating her at home weren’t working as well as they had done in the past and I knew she needed more. She was learning at an accelerated rate out on our daily trips in the real world but her interest dwindled at home. I was struggling to connect and her progression began to slow. She wanted to explore and she showed me everyday while I took her on walks in the Leicestershire countryside and what I was observing was her keen interest to learn about the wildlife around her. I realised that our classroom could be anywhere and the isolation I felt in the early days of her diagnosis had fallen away to a new beautiful world where anything was possible.

Iris’s love of nature is the foundation of her development, the inspiration for her paintings and where I have found she learns best. An idea was forming in my mind. My child loves forests, what if we went on a series of trips visiting the forests of the world? Could this be a way to challenge her, to challenge us even so she would push past certain obstacles we were struggling with? Would it build her confidence in a way that I can’t do from home? Open up her world to all sorts of possibilities…Build on social and life skills in a way that rewards her through real life experiences.

Living with Autism can be very challenging at times and they easily get stuck in repetitive loops of behavior. What if each day was different? A constantly changing environment, but following the child’s interests. Would this re-map those well trodden pathways in the brain, flexing it to be more free, or cause mayhem and turmoil?

I knew if this was going to be a success it would need to be longer than a week. A month or longer for each trip seemed doable and long enough to make a lasting difference.

Each trip will be tailored to Iris’s interests and we will educate her during the journey, as well as building on her self-care and life skills. She will learn in a real way that means something to her, that is flexible and free flowing. Following her interests in a constantly changing natural environment. I will document the process inspiring others, showing them the beauty in our world that needs to be protected for future generations.

The Forests of the World Project will be in aid of WWF, the world’s leading independent conservation organisation. Their mission is to create a world where people and wildlife can thrive together.

Our first trip was to Costa Rica, as it is a fine example of how it can be possible to live in harmony with nature. A 4-week adventure that was inspiring, challenging and mind expanding. Proving to be beyond my wildest expectations but an adventure that pushed us all to our limits.

This map of our 4-week road trip raising funds for the WWF
Photography: Arabella Carter-Johnson
Photography: Arabella Carter-Johnson
Photography: Arabella Carter-Johnson

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