Monday 26 August 2019

How we took our autistic pre-verbal son ziplining across the Canadian Rockies

David Ziplines the Canadian Rockies

To many who know him, the idea of taking our eight year old autistic son zip lining, never mind zip lining across waterfalls and canyons, could seem crazy.

David’s verbal skills are limited to a few, often stinted or hard to make out, words. And it’s pretty much the same with the language he listens too. He’ll respond to a few key words, and that’s if he thinks he should be responding. He has sensory challenges that means he can find it difficult to cope with certain fabrics and most of all, he’s very unsure of the unknown.

But I know David. I knew he would absolutely love zip lining if we could get him to do it. He loves swinging, and has been on small sit on zip lines at playgrounds and smaller adventure type parks. The big differences (or potential difficulties) would be having to wear a harness, helmet and possibly even glove (this is for a boy who has only in the last year allowed us to put a hat on him when it’s been freezing cold) and that David simply wouldn’t understand what was going on, freak out and meltdown.

Zip lining was one of the suggested activities on our recent trip to Maui. Maui is a beautiful island and there are quite a few companies that do zip lining. Some of them have lower weight limits so we weren’t able to go on them. I talked to the trip agent and told her about our family. I’ll be honest, I usually don’t shy away from activities and generally approach them with the idea that we can do them. But I find one of the best ways to do this is to be upfront about the kids challenges.

The activity agent told me about a company called North Shore Ziplines. It was a bit further away than a few other companies, but for the most Maui isn’t that big so it wasn’t that far. It wasn’t set in the rainforest but instead on an old military base, but that turned out to be great too.

But, the agent said they were ‘great with kids and first timers’. They have a low weight limit of just 40lbs, which meant the whole family including our six year old daughter could take part. And they had ‘a chicken clause’.

If anyone was too scared to continue after the first zip (or before if you really didn’t like it) then you could stop, get down… and get your money back. Ziplines generally cost upwards of $100 a person so it’s a lot to waste if you think you won’t get there. They were all book ahead too so it wasn’t as if we could turn up and see if it was quiet.

We’ve got various things we can do to try and help David prepare for new activities, so along with the above, I felt like we could try it. Two adults and three kids were booked on to an 8.15am zip at North Shore, just east of Kahului.

The evening before, we showed David the promotional video from North Shore Ziplines. We pointed to various parts of the video, made sure he was watching and then we highlighted what was going to happen.

“David tomorrow; Car; Zip lines”

“Look… harness.”

“Look… helmet.”

“Look…. Gloves”

“Going on a zipline”

“Going on a zipline”

We repeated this the next morning at our, rather early, breakfast. And then headed off. The rest is almost history.

We arrived. Our guides (Loki, Nemo and Cat) had harnesses, helmets and gloves laid out. I looked at them and took a breath. Would David allow them on his body? It’s quite obvious that David is different when he doesn’t talk and doesn’t seem to respond to general instructions. But when guided, he stood and let Loki put on the harness, then came the helmet and he even shouted ‘gloves’ when we brought him some.

He was quiet through the safety briefing and although we knew he wasn’t taking it in then, later when we told him to ‘hold the yellow strap’ he got it.

There was us and one other family on our time slot. At the first line, we let them go ahead. My hubby went first and then David ‘follow Daddy’.

“Zip zip” said Loki, and off David squealed with excitement.

He sailed across zip line after zip line, scaled tall towers, suspension bridges and skirted around trees and a smile the whole way. The biggest smiles and giggles, saved for the launching off each line. I’m so sad, I’ve a faceless blog and can’t show you the joy and grin he had. It was brilliant. Jane rated it as the best part of the holiday so far.

Ten days later and we had flown to Vancouver. We had decided to spend a day in Whistler and after the success in Maui, some zipping down the mountain was the main event of the day.

We showed David the video of the Bear Course that we booked onto with Ziptrek Ecotours. This time we also pointed out a bus on the video as there was an eight minute bus ride up the mountain after gearing up. As soon as David he started squealing ‘zip zip’. Very promising.

Our only error for our Canadian Rockies adventure was that we failed to mention to David that prior to zip lining we were going on a small hike and then having lunch. This nearly caused a meltdown. We got out for the hike and then went on a lovely walk to the train wreck. But as we got back and approached the car, David started saying ‘nah nah’, which is his version of no, and shaking his hands.

“Car,” I said.

“Nah, Nah,” he replied. The then mumbled something else I couldn’t hear.

“It’s OK David.”

And I got down to his level. That’s when I heard the word.. “Zip” and clear as could be.

I realised my error.

“Car, lunch.. then zip”

He calmed and walked back to the car.

He had fries for lunch.

He put on a harness and a helmet. He boarded the bus with a smile.

The Zip Lines with ZipTrek Ecotours were slightly different. All but one course had a 65lbs limit (due to the length of the lines). The Bear course didn’t have this limit but some of the lines would need to be tandem zips for those under 65lbs which mean both Jane and David would zip two lines with one of the guides showing us round.

It also meant the lines were longer (up to 1,100m) and faster than Maui. This was much to the delight of out eldest lad, who is also autistic. Apparently he’d though we would be zipping over the ocean in Maui. No one knows why he thought this. But zipping over the ranging Fitzsimmons creek between Whistler and neighbouring mountains in the Canadian Rockies was pretty acceptable.

The time for tandem zipping came and it’s possible David loved it even more. Not only did he go faster but we was also hands free because of the way the guides crossed together. He squealed and his little arms flapped around like crazy as he crossed.

Jack and Laura at Ziptrek Ecotours were also brilliant with him, carefully guiding him through the course with even bigger suspension bridges, platforms in amongst the giant trees that filled the temperate rainforest.

David and Jane both need to put on about 20lbs before they can go on a bigger course themselves. Given that Anthony rated this zipline as top of the holiday too (one that also included a helicopter ride), I’ll be looking out for other courses that work for us so our lot can ‘zip zip’ through more beautiful settings.


  1. What a lovely experience for your family to share. I love how accessible it was for your son as well.

    Cait @ Of Needles and Noodles

    1. It really was. Thanks for commenting Cait.

  2. Sounds amazing. Glad it went so well!

    1. Thanks Steph, it's such a delight when it does!

  3. What an incredible experience! And brilliant that everyone could enjoy it.

  4. What a heartwarming post. I am so happy to hear how much your little boy enjoyed the ziplines, even though there's no photo, I can picture a big cheeky grin on his face :-) x


  5. This sounds fantastic! So glad that you all got to enjoy such a brilliant experience. #KCACOLS

  6. This melts my heart. So glad you all had a great time. You take great care to ensure your son is well cared for. He's so lucky to have you. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time

  7. Soooooo brave! What a fantastic experience x

  8. I love this and think my son would love it too. I would be terrifyied but sounds like you were in good hands #spectrumsunday


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