Summer Vacation Plans

We are headed to a San Antonio waterpark to beat the heat for free! Well, nothing is free, but we book a hotel stay each summer using credit card points that I use to pay for all of my son’s autism therapies! I highly suggest paying as many of your autism therapies as you can on a points credit card. You’re going to buy the therapy anyway, you might as well earn some free hotel stays or airplane rides while you’re at it!

 

 

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New Nonprofit for Special Needs Travel

One of the special needs travel discoveries I made during 2017 was the existence of a travel company and nonprofit in Central Texas focused on serving families that care for a special needs child.

I learned about this incredible resource at an Autism Treatment Forum meeting where the group heard from speaker, Karen S. Duncan, MS, about her nonprofit organization, AWADAE (Adventures with Autism, Down Syndrome and Epilepsy). Ms. Duncan is a certified travel counselor who created AWADAE to help special needs families have the chance to travel together as a family. She arranges trips that pair therapists with families along with any other wraparound resources that a family might need to make their trips run smoothly. Currently, Ms. Duncan is focused on cruises and tours for these adventures.

Recently, I got a chance to sit down with Ms. Duncan for an interview, and I will be sharing more about this important nonprofit in future blogs.

 

Holiday Travel–Do’s and Don’ts

When you’re traveling with autism, usually the holidays are not your best choice of travel dates. Today’s blog entry will be a good primer in what NOT to do when traveling with someone who has autism. As we left with little notice, we did not do our normal protocol of traveling–like researching food options at our destination and writing a social story for unexpected flight delays. We did pay attention to our son’s internal timetable though, and that’s the number one way to make trips a success.

For flights, I have always tried to book our air travel portion over weekdays and far from national holidays like Christmas. But, this past holiday season, it couldn’t be helped. Our son really wanted to visit his grandmother and requested this at the last moment. As our son rarely makes requests, we wanted to honor this.

We ended up booking the flight with only a week of notice, we got terribly expensive tickets, and packed at the last minute, not really getting him prepped or his food prepped properly for a trip out of state to a place where we were not familiar with the restaurant options.

The flights going to grandma’s were okay, but his main concern the entire trip was trying to get wifi. A new obsession for us to worry about is his need to get wifi access for his devices. In the past, we didn’t need to worry about this issue. So, this was a new stressor. I cannot say that we had a great plan, other than using our hotspot from our own phones to boost our son’s device. If you have a brilliant idea on this, please leave a comment!

For food, again we needed to have planned ahead better. Looking for gluten-free food when you’re traveling in the U.S. Deep South is not an easy feat. We found a Japanese/Thai fusion place that was not what I would call amazing food, but was edible and gluten-free, our only real concern. Again, we should have planned ahead better knowing the regional options for food.

However all is saved by staying in a hotel with a pool. Our son loves hanging out in hotels, so this is always a good thing on any vacation. For food at the hotel, he was able to find some gluten-free options but not any bread options as few hotels at their free breakfast bars have gluten-free bread. Again, since we traveled at the last minute, we did not do a good job of planning ahead. We should have packed a loaf of our own bread in our carry on.

He also only wanted to see his grandma for the day. He wasn’t there for a long trip. I’m not sure about other children with autism, but for our son, he is checking off a box mentally. Did he see you? If he saw you, then he has “visited” you. There is no sitting around for days chatting with him.

For our son to feel that the trip was successful, he wants to see you, spend a little bit of time answering your questions and then is ready for a restaurant and a museum or zoo! Something fun and visually appealing for him. Again, nothing that involves having to talk, but just looking at things together. That is a huge happiness for him.

And I think this is the most important point of traveling with someone with autism. What makes the trip a success TO THEM? Not to you, not to someone else, not to your relatives who will have expectations, but to the person with autism. Try to see the trip through their eyes. This will save you a lot of frustration.

Our son just needs to be doing something with someone, not sitting and talking for him to stay happy. He doesn’t have to be interacting like in a conversation. To him the shared experience IS the conversation.

When he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go. So, it’s back to the hotel. And then the next morning, he doesn’t want to see anyone, he’s just focused on getting on the airplane and heading home. He doesn’t maximize time with someone he loves, he just enjoys the time that makes sense to him to spend.

 

 

Downtown Dallas Doesn’t Disappoint

My son is in love with anime, so when a major anime show was coming to Dallas, we knew we had to go. I was worried that downtown Dallas might be too loud or overwhelming for him. Boy, was I wrong. Downtown Dallas is pretty calm, particularly during the weekends when businesses are closed. For some, this might have seemed boring. For us, this was a welcome respite.

We booked a room at the Springhill Marriott (can’t really say I adored it, but it did the job) across the street from the Dallas Aquarium. As we arrived in Dallas on Saturday morning, the lines at the Aquarium were forever (no surprise) by Saturday afternoon. I would not recommend this outing at this peak time for someone with waiting issues, and that describes most people with autism.

My son had no interest in the lines so I took my typically developing daughter and it was still overwhelming and too crowded. So, I cannot give this a Travels With Autism thumbs-up. Perhaps the Aquarium has special days for people with autism, but a regular Saturday is just too crowded.

Our hotel staff (very helpful with recommendations) suggested we visit a gorgeous new science museum–the Perot Museum of Nature and Science— within walking distance of downtown or a short cab ride away.

Even though the Science Museum is very popular, the exhibit halls are spacious and you can find areas that are not too crowded if you want to just hang out in a less popular gallery and chill. That’s what my son and I did.  There were lots of exhibits that would appeal to people on the autism spectrum–birds, sports, science, outer space and all very interesting and well displayed. A big thumbs-up for the Perot Science Museum!

My son and I spent most of our time in the bird area, pretending to fly (very cool) and learning about bird sounds. Other galleries were more crowded but we just steered clear of those. I didn’t even need to get out his headphones for this museum. I really cannot say enough nice things about the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Dallas is lucky to have it!

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Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Image from DallasArtsDistrict.org

Also, our hotel staff recommended visiting a really interesting park in Dallas, the Klyde Warren Park, that was built on top of I-35 and opened a few years ago. This unique park features loads of interesting areas to explore for kids and adults. There are food trucks here on the weekends, a restaurant, a water feature for kids, a playground, and there is cultural programming and free performances. It’s another absolute gem in downtown Dallas. It was a welcome surprise for our trip.

For dining, downtown is a little challenging in the area that we were staying in. Luckily we had brought most of our own food as our son is on the gluten-free, dairy-free diet and this constraint makes grabbing food on the go challenging. From our hotel, we were within walking distance of a TGI Friday’s restaurant and there were a few other dining options in the West End area. The Perot Museum also had a really nice cafe and we ate one of our meals there.

I would highly recommend a weekend in Dallas, which honestly, surprises me to write, because you think of downtown areas as too overwhelming for people on the spectrum, but Dallas’ downtown has so many museums, that you can find a weekend’s worth of things to do. I would recommend that you take your own food for dietary needs, and stick to the museums and the parks instead of the Aquarium for a successful sensory trip.

If someone has a recommendation for a good, updated, downtown hotel/extended stay hotel, please write to us in the comments. I looked up hotels and didn’t find one with a pool and a kitchen in the downtown area. So, I’m still looking for just the right “Travels with Autism” downtown Dallas hotel. Happy Travels!

 

Air Travel information

Trying to help other families like mine travel more easily was the reason I started this blog back in 2011. Air travel was the most challenging aspect of going on a trip for my son, so I spent a lot of time researching this area. Recently, the US Dept. of Transportation provided guidelines to airlines about travelers with developmental disabilities. To read the full document, click here.

Austin City Limits Music Festival

My son, who is normally very afraid of loud noises, has asked if he can go to this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival, known as ACL. I bought us two tickets. I have earphones. I have toilet paper (porta potties, yuck). What I don’t have is a plan.

I’m not even sure where to start. I’ve tried calling the ACL number listed on their website and it’s a recording for the music promoter that’s handling the ticket sales.

I need to talk to someone at ACL to see if they have some suggestions about how they accommodate people with disabilities at such a loud, crowded event. I’m really most concerned about the food issue, as my son is on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet for his autism. They search backpacks when you enter, so I can’t just waltz in there with his day’s food without talking to someone. Also, it would be ideal if he could hang out somewhere away from the music without having to leave, like a volunteer tent or something like that.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy to even try, but when my son wants to try something, I really go into action mode to make it happen. Perhaps we’ll get close to the gates and he won’t be able to manage the noise and crowds. Well, then, I guess this experiment was $180. I give him a lot of credit for even wanting to try.

My next steps are to call the City of Austin ADA department to see if they have any ideas. Do you have any suggestions, dear reader?

I’ll keep you posted.

Flying with Autism

Air travel can be tricky, for anyone. It’s particularly difficult for children with autism, as the experience is completely out of their control, flights are delayed or worse canceled, and add in the noise and waiting, and you have a recipe for stress. That’s why I’m always a bit nervous when we fly. Not so much that I’m not willing to take big trips, but enough to where I have developed some travel routines when I fly:

  • I always check with my airlines about bulkhead seating 2 days before departure. This is the time when the airlines are assigning these seats. Bulkhead seats are typically, but not always, reserved for passengers with special needs.
  • I bring presents on board that are small, but fun, that will keep my children occupied, I give these out every 15 minutes for long flights. I have traveled with 20 presents before.
  • I introduce myself and my special needs child to the attendant when we board, so that possibly, they will know who we are if I need to request something.
  • I bring tons of headphones, videos, books, art materials, snacks, stuffed animals, and basically try to keep my children engaged the entire trip.
  • I have a story written with pictures that describes what we are going to do every step of the trip. (Google Carol Gray Social Stories for more information)
  • I hope for the best and plan for the worst. I have a first aid kit with me for minor health complaints. I don’t want my son crying in mid-flight because I didn’t have a band-aid on me.

We have been flying for years now, and except for one loud yell on a flight about 3 years ago that I think was related to a stomach ache, we’ve made it through hours of flights with no incidence.

Much of this is attributed to our work to prepare for the flights, but also, much of the experience is in the hands of the airline and the other passengers. If they’re helpful, we stay calm, if they’re rigid, we get nervous.

Our most recent flight was with American Airlines and they were absolutely great. We’ve also had good luck with Delta. I always call the airlines ADA number before the trip and list our son as disabled so that when we check in, they’re aware and allow us to pre-board.

I hope all of this information helps you on your next flight. What are some ways that you travel with your children with autism? I’m always looking for new ideas.