How Our Son’s Autism Is Like Our Hike to Hanging Lake


When our son was about to enter second grade, we decided to visit Glenwood Springs on a mini vacation. We were in the middle of trying to figure out the best schooling options for him and needed a break from all the decisions. Our son was diagnosed with autism at age 3 ½, and up to this point, we had been working through his sensory issues and speech delay. We were by no means done, but we were at a point where we felt we could go on a vacation as a family.

After we arrived, we tried to think of things that our son could do within the range of his tolerances. We visited the big Hot Springs pool, we fished in a little hatchery pond, and we searched for a good treat store. My husband mentioned Hanging Lake (a beautiful lake at the top of a very steep hike, one we had visited on our honeymoon). Would our son be up to the intensive hike just to stare at a lake? We decided what the heck, we could try it and quit early if he wasn’t up to it.

A boy, standing on a boulder with his arms up
Our Son Posing on the Boulders

When we arrived at the park and started up the trail, our son bolted ahead of us. He discovered large boulders along the way and wanted to get up on top and pose for pictures. I probably have a picture of every boulder on that trail. Once we reached the top, we forgot the difficult hike for a while and relaxed in the beauty of the lake. (It really is a fantastic trip if you can make it!)

Our hike to Hanging Lake mirrors most of our family’s experience with autism: with each new goal, we planned for a difficult hike, our son surprised us with his abilities, we did our best to overcome the many boulders along the way, and he made many silly poses for the camera. One exception is that we knew what Hanging Lake was and what it took to climb up there. When we received our autism diagnosis, we didn’t have a clue what that meant or what we were about to face.

So many families that I talk to had the same overwhelming experience at their diagnosis. However, they usually have different struggles and different strategies than we did. Each case of autism is unique, and I am continually amazed at how parents, kids, and the many amazing therapists and teachers do their best to work through the obstacles.

We all meet at the beginning of the trail. We may not know exactly where we’re going to end up, but we keep climbing, we keep challenging ourselves to find the best answers for our children, and we enjoy the beauty of those triumphs when they come.

a boy and mom looking at the lake
My son and I enjoying the lake view


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Audra is a Colorado mountain girl turned Denver Metro suburbanite. She is wife to her high school sweetheart, mother to a wonderfully unconventional teenager, and servant to a variety of four-legged creatures. She has enjoyed the experience of staying home with her son, loving (and sometimes simply surviving) the many tasks of motherhood. Hand in hand with her husband and kiddo, she’s faced bugs and mud, picky eating wars, teenage challenges, and the many stages of autism. Through it all, she has found strength, love, and a healthy appreciation for good humor (also wine). Currently, she is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, embracing her passion for technology and working towards a career in software development.


    • It’s a great hike and a gorgeous view! If you do go, try getting there early in the morning. Parking is an issue, as the entrance is small in the narrow canyon off the highway.

    • That is great, Mike and Ruth! I hope you all have a wonderful visit. It is a steep hike, but I think autistic children often like the extra physical exertion and pressure input that comes from challenging walks and hikes. Our son certainly took it by storm!

      A while back, I read in the Denver Post that the trail was becoming so popular it was getting difficult for people to find parking. They were considering setting up a fee for admission, but as of now (May 2015), it is still free to go. My family is heading up there soon too, and I just spoke with the Glenwood Springs Chamber about parking. Apparently, there is a new admission gate that will close when parking is full, but people can still come and go throughout the day. It’s best to get there early in the morning if you can. I hope you all have a great hike!

    • Thank you, Alison! We may tackle that trail again this summer. It’s been a while. I read in the Denver Post that Glenwood is trying to solve the issue of overcrowding in the parking area. They are considering solutions, including a possible fee for entrance. We were going to check in with the Glenwood Springs information center before we headed up there.


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