My 4-year-old daughter’s autism diagnosis left us at a loss until our friends stepped in with not just a “sorry,” but a solution that changed our lives.

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portrait of mary nockles
Credit: Courtesy of Mary Nockles

We have 3-year-old twins and an extremely active 4-year-old daughter, Matilda. When I say “active,” I mean she climbs every cupboard, crevice, and counter in the house. She can scale the 7-foot chain-link fence in our backyard and basically has zero fear of heights. When she was diagnosed with autism recently, we finally had the answer for her daredevil behavior and her sensory needs.

In the weeks after, it felt like we were in free fall, grasping at all the resources being thrown our way and trying to understand our new circumstances (and did I mention the 3-year-old twins?). Most of the people we told responded with shock, stunned silence, or a heartbreaking “Sorry.”

Then, out of nowhere, our friends Chad and Tara simply said, “We’re going to build you a climbing wall.” They’d done their research into the tactile needs of kids with autism, and instead of saying few or no words, they went directly into action.

matilda on blue custom made climbing wall
Matilda on her custom climbing wall
| Credit: Courtesy of Mary Nockles

They arrived at the house to take some measurements, and two weeks later returned with an 8x12-foot solid hardwood, handmade, hand-painted climbing wall. Even the climbing holds had been designed to provide different colored “routes” for Matilda to follow. It was way better than any wall we’d seen at her therapy gym.

It took an entire afternoon for them to install, and I can only assume countless hours and effort for them to build. Then together we sat and watched with full hearts and big smiles as Matilda scaled it like a cat and giggled and squeaked with joy.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's December 2020 issue as “The Act of Kindness That Touched Our Families: Friends Built What Our Girl Needed.” Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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