The outdoors not only can heal us, but it helps us cope with life. Contributor Mickey Sanderson discusses how fresh air, dirt, and the outdoors helps her son have more happiness in his life. This is a powerful story.

Giggles, coos, goo goo gaga, and then “Mama” or “Dada.”

Which will it be? As parents, we wait for that big first word to come from our little one’s mouth. We write it down and we save that memory forever. Our hearts melt the moment our baby says “wuv you” for the first time. The baby words “goggy” aka doggy, “dwink”-drink, “shit” or was that “chip”?

These are words that they use when they first learn to tell us what they want. What would life be like if they couldn’t tell you their belly is hurting, they need a drink, or even that they “lub you”?

This is how my son Raylan lives everyday having speech apraxia and autism.

As of now he is 2 and half years old and his 7-month-old brother has surpassed him in many areas of development. Speech apraxia is when the brain cannot covey to the body a plan to move the muscles of the mouth. Being autistic means that Raylan has a multitude of delays in social skills, communication, motor, and cognitive. Raylan struggles on a daily basis to convey his feelings, wants, and needs. As his mom, it is hard to watch him struggle to say what exactly is on his mind. Often when he becomes frustrated he hits himself or others; it breaks my heart.

During the year of 2016 we took Raylan camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, and just about every outdoor activity there is. Slowly we stopped our outdoor adventures because I was super pregnant and it just got so bitterly cold over the winter. We then began to notice Raylan was struggling with more and more sensory development, cognitive development, and social development. So his pediatrician pushed for more test, more blood work, and more therapy. Often causing us to spend more time inside.

We were always cooped up with appointment after appointment, therapy session after therapy session. We began to see him wake up at night screaming, and not being able to comfort him. We experienced many sleepless nights. I don’t mean he woke up at 2 AM went back to bed at 4 AM. I mean he’d wake up at 11 PM and stay up until 8 the next morning. I was so burned out and I am sure he was feeling just a miserable as I was. His newborn brother slept more than us at night. He began to have more meltdowns that consisted of ear damaging screams, so we did more test.

One day Raylan reached up and grabbed my pointer finger during one of his meltdowns. That little boy walked me from my bedroom clear to the other side of the house. “Where are we going bud?, what do you need bud?, what is it baby?” I just kept asking.

I thought he was just holding my hand, but no. He had an agenda and a destination in mind.

Finally, we arrived at the door to the backyard. He then smacked the door with my hand, and I didn’t understand so I walked away. I thought his “game” was over, but no it was not. He began to cry and show his frustration. “What do you need baby?” I tried to make him a bottle and he threw it down the steps. I tried to rock him and he fought me. I tried to give him his favorite toy and he threw it. Nothing was working I wanted to sit down and just cry with him. I couldn’t help him and I didn’t know what he wanted.

Again, I let him grab my finger and lead me through the house. Again, we showed up at the back door. I was puzzled. He just looked at me with these eyes “Do you understand me?” And finally it clicked!


Raylan’s first words had come out and I could not have asked for better words. I don’t mean that the words verbally left his mouth. We spent most of his first year outside, and slowly we backed off from being outdoors. A new baby in October and then after that it was nasty winter in Wyoming. It had a trickle effect on Raylan, slowly effecting how he slept, acted, responded to the world around him and we had no idea.

The moment we stepped out the door he looked up at me smiled, let go of my hand, took off toddle-botting into the yard, and giggling uncontrollably. He was so happy and the world made sense to him again. Raylan played in the rocks, grass, and mud. His senses were working and he could understand his surroundings. He put dirt in his mouth and spit it out, he’d pull the grass and watch the blades fall through his fingers, and the best part is he was so happy.

The world was spinning correctly now. That night he slept through the night and he didn’t cry when he wanted something. He just was in a trance of complete happiness.

He just needed to breath the fresh air, feel the sun on his skin, and all was right with the world.

I watched God’s creations and nature heal my son’s broken heart that day. I watched him turn into a different child. Now I know when he’s having a tough time, that we just need to go outside. It does not matter if it is rain or shine, hot or cold, he will just look at you and say “Take me outside.” There are a multitude of studies about how healing the outdoors are, physically and mentally. I just never thought I would see such a dramatic difference so close to home.

Raylan is one of the biggest blessings of my life. Raylan’s delays cause him to be that much more fortunate in many other areas. Raylan is relentless and fearless. He has taught me to be patience, unconditional love, and to use nature as a daily course of therapy. Even if I am not feeling like being outside, he walks me to the door to “take him outside.”

You can read more of Mickey’s writing on her blog, Hike It Mamma.

5 comments on “A Breath of Fresh Air

  1. Love, love, love. It’s not exactly the same, but my younger son tells us in ways other than words that he enjoys being in nature. I’m so happy you have the outdoors to share together.

    • Thank you, It is amazing, they know what they need. We just have to listen with our mind, eyes, add well as ears. As mothers we need to be able to hear what they are saying outside their words.

  2. How wonderful you understood him. A beautiful story we can all learn from. Sometimes, I just need to go outside to get a different perspective too.

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