A dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and Autism challenges a family trying to participate in activities most take for granted. Over the years we have found one that brings complete joy, adventure and a sense of accomplishment. The activity is the junior ranger program at the National Parks.
We first learned of the program at Ft. Matanzas, FL. A ranger came up to our daughter Abby and presented her with a junior ranger badge. She was five years old and not too excited, but we were. Since then we have been to over fifty national parks. Together we participate in each park's junior ranger program, go to the visitor center and walk the shorter paved trails. Through the years we find our daughter participating more and more.
Initially it was a challenge to even enter the visitor center or place a mark in the junior ranger booklet let alone show any interest in the junior ranger badge we pinned proudly on her blouse. Now with Abby at sixteen, we all enter the visitor center, check out one or two exhibits and even attend a few minutes of the park's movie. Together we can complete most of the junior ranger booklet and activities. Abby presents the booklet to the ranger to receive a junior ranger badge.
One of the more memorable experiences was last summer at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, CO. Abby place the finished booklet on the ranger's desk, stood there calmly and looked him in the eye. When he presented Abby with a badge proclaiming her a junior ranger, the entire center's visitors, volunteers and ranger spontaneously clapped!